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How will AI impact the gig economy in the Middle East?

Whether you’re a short-term worker or a freelancer, you need to learn to navigate the changing landscape of the gig economy to capitalize on the future of work

How will AI impact the gig economy in the Middle East?
[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

Menaka Ramakrishnan has been a freelance content writer for the past seven years, serving clients in telecommunication, retail, and government, amongst other organizations.

When she first heard of ChatGPT late last year, she feared it would take over her job. To her surprise, it didn’t. But it did change the way she works.

“When it first came out, I and a lot of my peers in the industry were worried about our jobs, but actually, the outlook hasn’t been that negative,” she says. “I still get inquiries for work, but it is interesting that some clients ask me to write a pitch for AI to create the content. It’s like a new role where you’re the mediator between AI and the client.”

She likens the transition to when writers had to adapt to the emergence of social media more than ten years ago. “When social media came, new roles were created for content writers. Now that AI has come, I think there will be new job roles for us, too,” she adds.

While jobs may evolve in the age of AI, there is the risk that it could displace workers in the gig economy. In the Middle East, about 45% of work could be automated between now and 2030, according to a report by McKinsey & Co. 


One of the most significant ways AI impacts the gig economy is by automating routine tasks once performed by people. For instance, platforms like Uber and Lyft are already experimenting with self-driving cars, which could replace human drivers.

Similarly, chatbots could also replace customer service representatives. Cequens, a communications platform provider with operations in the Middle East and beyond, uses AI chatbots to answer customers’ queries, helping it reduce wait times and freeing up the team to focus on more strategic tasks.

Although the company is integrating AI into its operations, Ahmed Shabrawy, Co-Founder of Cequens, says it hasn’t replaced workers. 

“While we’ve automated certain tasks such as routing, pricing updates, and message detection, it hasn’t replaced workers, but rather enabled them to concentrate on more strategic tasks,” he adds. “For instance, automating price updates has allowed our team to focus more on improving pricing strategies and customer engagement.”

Galal Elbeshbishy, Co-Founder of Synapse Analytics, an AI company that supports organizations to manage and monetize data, is not concerned about AI replacing workers. He believes technology will enable people to transition to new roles and acquire new skills. Instead of focusing on repetitive tasks, for example, workers can enhance their decision-making, problem-solving, and strategic thinking skills, which are essential to any organization.

“There are certain mundane roles that are going to be replaced by technology, but there are other roles that are going to be created by using this kind of technology as well,” says Elbeshbishy. “So, if what you’re doing as a person is just a narrow task, I think there’s so much more to you that you can evolve or do in any specific vertical as well that the machine cannot do.”


Despite the proliferation of AI, the new technology still requires human input and expertise to operate at its full potential.

Carrington Malin, an independent marketing consultant in the UAE, has been using AI for almost five years to help with content planning and creation but still needs to oversee its output. “I still end up editing significantly any copy I get from AI,” he says. “So, I use AI for content often, but I never use AI’s copy at all.”

In his case, AI cannot tune in to clients’ needs no matter how much information he gives. “I still have to judge right and wrong,” he adds. “Somebody with enough experience still needs to filter the information to determine if it’s accurate, relevant, and what the client would want.” 

For this reason, he believes that marketing, writing, and creative jobs will still be needed in the future, albeit they will have to adapt to AI. 

But Laila Essa, a freelancer based in Saudi Arabia, doesn’t rely much on the new technology and doesn’t expect it to change how she works for the time being. She says that clients in the region tend to prefer localized content, something that AI cannot do yet. “My biggest challenge was to produce localized content. I could pick up content and localize it, but I would never be able to produce a finished or polished work. And businesses and the government sector in Saudi Arabia want everything to be localized; otherwise, they would not accept it.”


While AI may be disrupting nearly every industry and changing the way most people work, the reality is that it is here to stay. According to a recent report by Google, AI is expected to generate $320 billion in the Middle East by 2030. 

Yet concerns remain about the absence of a regulatory framework and ethical guidelines to ensure it is used responsibly. Copyright and intellectual property issues quickly arise with AI companies using available data to train AI models. Malin gives the example of an AI image. 

“You don’t 100% know how much that image is similar to another image which might be a copyrighted work,” he says. “And finding out at the moment is near impossible. So, do you not use it because there’s a chance, however small, that it might be related to somebody else’s copyright or intellectual property.”

Such dilemmas are some of the things that businesses and individuals have to consider when using AI. Regardless, the adoption of the new technology shows no sign of slowing down. 

Mohammed Jaffar, Co-Founder of Yanzo, an AI-based on-demand personal assistant in the UAE, is already using chatbots in his startup to accurately mimic agents and even pick up on customers’ emotions. He aims to increase the company’s monthly chatbot transactions from 2,000 to 10,000 in the coming year.

So, where does this leave gig workers and freelancers? Jaffar believes they have no choice but to upskill if they want to remain relevant. “I think if they don’t upskill, they will become obsolete across all industries,” he says. “The level of service and quality that any industry or freelancer can provide with AI is much superior to someone without AI. And they can provide the results in a shorter time and with better quality.”

As for Ramakrishnan, she continues to experiment with AI tools to stay competitive as a freelancer. From trying out different prompts to using new apps, she knows that adopting AI has become essential to getting ahead. “I experiment with it to know my competition,” she says. “That’s how I can evolve and stay relevant alongside such technology.”

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