Birzeit University wins funding for pioneering Arabic-language conversational AI

Dr. Mustafa Jarrar, a professor of artificial intelligence at Birzeit University, has recently been awarded funding to develop an Arabic-language conversational artificial intelligence (chatbot) as part of a joint research project with Dr. Levent Arslan, founder and CEO of SESTEK, a Turkish artificial intelligence and natural language processing company. 

The project will be funded by the Higher Council for Innovation & Excellence in Palestine as part of a joint program with the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey. The two institutions are cooperating to support cross-country research in wastewater management, biotechnology and nanotechnology, energy, and information technology.

At a signing ceremony for the project funding agreement, Jarrar emphasized the importance of having Palestinian institutions support local researchers, saying that such funding opportunities encourage researchers to explore even more ways of advancing science and technology in Palestine and the region. 

The project, Jarrar noted, aims to develop an industry-ready chatbot for Arab banks. Customers will be able to call their banks and talk directly to the chatbot using their local dialect of Arabic, and the bot will be able to understand and execute their requests. The chatbot will be developed using advanced AI techniques that Jarrar and Arslan developed after several years of research in computational linguistics. 

Adnan Samara, president of the Higher Council for Innovation & Excellence, said the funding is part of the organization’s push to support research projects and turn them into commercially viable firms able to compete locally and regionally. 

Dr. Allan Tubaileh, dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Technology at Birzeit University, stressed the importance of joint research projects and academic cooperation in developing teaching and research efforts in Palestinian universities. He added that Jarrar has been one of the faculty’s leading researchers, with a multitude of joint research projects with local and international institutions. 

Jarrar’s conversational AI is one of two projects chosen among 25 applications submitted for funding by the Higher Council for Innovation & Excellence and the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey. The winning projects, selected by Palestinian and Turkish judges, will be funded by their native institutions.