Historic tech investments have left the UAE ideally placed to lead the world in AI integration

26/06/2023 by Ali Sajwani

I’m fascinated and immensely proud of the UAE’s strong leadership in the technology sector. From the early days of oil and gas exploration to AI-powered self-driving taxis, growing crops in the desert, the hyperloop and cloud seeding, there’s always something in the global press regarding another bold UAE technological leap.

As a small, lean and affluent nation, it’s no surprise, perhaps, that we have taken some ambitious steps towards making the UAE a digital-first nation, with a young, tech-savvy population keen to embrace all the latest technology.

Innovation and technology surround us every day. From the technological wonder of the Burj Khalifa to the Mars mission, it’s no wonder we have a population that believes anything is possible.

Against this backdrop, then, it’s also not surprising to discover that the UAE appointed the world’s first AI minister, H.E. Omar Sultan Al Olama, who you could argue has the world’s coolest job.

And we also have an AI strategy, launched way back in 2017 – which lays out the route to becoming one of the leading nations in AI by 2031. The strategy aims to create new economic, educational, and social opportunities for citizens, governments and businesses alike – generating up to AED335 billion in extra economic growth in the process. The strategy lays out how we will integrate AI across sectors, including healthcare, transportation, education and smart cities.

I find that ambition breathtaking – and exciting.

What, for me, makes the strategy stand out is the ability of the government to combine a strong vision with active involvement – in terms of investment, legislation and testbeds – to drive technological innovation.

Our government lays out plans and acts on them. I recently read somewhere that the UAE “will build an AI economy, not wait for one.”

There is no irony that a large part of building an AI economy will rely on some of the best human minds – and, you guessed it – the UAE also has a dedicated AI University, the Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI), a graduate research university dedicated to “advancing AI as a global force for humanity”. MBZUAI “exists to educate and develop top talent, foster an innovation ecosystem, and act as a strategic think tank for the public and private sectors.”

The UAE’s openness to experimentation and piloting new technologies provides a fertile ground for AI development. Initiatives like the Dubai Future Accelerators and the Smart Dubai Office’s AI Lab enable companies to test and refine their AI solutions in real-world settings.

Dubai Future Accelerators, for example, overseen by the Dubai Future Foundation, aims to accelerate innovation and collaboration between government entities and technology companies. It pairs selected start-ups and scale-ups with government organisations to work on specific challenges and projects.

The programme provides the opportunity to develop, evaluate innovative solutions, and collaborate closely with government partners.

We already enjoy a robust digital infrastructure – with high-speed internet connectivity and advanced telecommunications networks. This foundation will help enable the seamless integration and deployment of AI technologies.

Of course, regulation is key, and we already have supportive regulations and policies in place to foster innovation and attract AI-related investments. Initiatives like the Dubai Future Foundation and the Dubai Data Initiative create a conducive environment for AI integration, enabling data sharing and collaboration between the public and private sectors.

The UAE actively encourages collaboration between the government, academia, and the private sector. Partnerships with leading tech companies and institutions worldwide facilitate knowledge exchange, research, and implementation of cutting-edge AI solutions.

At the heart of this incredible non-human technology, there lies a very human concept – that to make an AI-driven economy work, we need to employ the brightest minds to work together, to collaborate in partnerships, and to discover new and innovative ways of working together through labs, incubators and workshops.

The UAE is perfectly placed to take full advantage of the AI revolution, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.

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