How the UAE’s New Minister of AI Views the Future Of Tech in His Desert Nation

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How the UAE's New Minister of AI Views the Future Of Tech in His Desert Nation


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How this 27-year-old is gearing up to make the United Arab Emirates a world leader in artificial intelligence.


5 min read

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Can you actually have a state “minister of artificial intelligence”? Yes: The United Arab Emirates has actually appointed one.

Related: 5 Ways to Make AI Work for Your Organization

He is State Minister of AI Omar bin Sultan Al Olama. And, during an interview, he told me he is confident about the future of artificial intelligence in his desert nation and the civic benefits that will emerge from these advancements.

Certainly, it’s common knowledge that the UAE is leading developments in artificial intelligence; and other governments are taking notice. Dubai is not only the home of the upcoming World Government Summit but also the nucleus of innovative projects, like the hyperloop located in a “Mars Science City,” and projects involving flying cars, jetpacks and renewable energy.

In our interview, Olama spoke about the cutting-edge technologies he believes will launch the country, and possibly the world, into a golden age of technology.

Where to begin

Where does a 27-year-old begin, in his effort to pioneer a new government system dedicated entirely to AI? Olama said he’s positive that artificial intelligence will prove an opportunity for the UAE rather than a challenge.

“The second mandate,” Olama continued, “is to create the right ecosystem, to ensure that we can create homegrown talent that leads the discussion and development in the field of A.I. while also attracting the best of talent to the UAE from around the world.

“Furthermore, my responsibilities include the advancement of adoption of AI technologies and systems in the government in ways that improve the lives of citizens, increase the efficiency of government, create a better and safer environment and give the UAE a competitive edge.”

Olama also emphaized global communication about AI: He’s expected to stimulate the global discussion rregarding this technology, while also specifying the indicators governments need to look at so that future potentially catastrophic outcomes are averted.

A voice for youth in the U.A.E.’s government

In this context, Olama’s ministry has been planning revolutionary projects to create a better life for its citizens — projects that support the development of locally born and bred AI systems. The ministry is working with local government to provide training data for these systems and to encourage other governments to follow in the technological advances the U.A.E. is creating.

Related: Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg Are Arguing About AI — But They’re Both Missing the Point

The minister further commented on the actual launch of the AI Ministry, noting its focus on “sectors that . . .in the past might not have been obvious sectors for us regionally or globally. From airlines and airports to shipping ports to aluminum production, the UAE has always been at the forefront of making the most out of advantages,” the minister said.

“Another fact is the agility of our government,” he added. “Our leadership has seen an importance in giving youth a voice of their own.

Creating the ministry has strengthened this goal, whereby youth can see their own age group reprsented in the UAE cabinet. This “was a pioneering step that many countries and international organizations applaud,” Olama said. “Establishing a position for minister of state for AI came as a direct decision based on the opportunities and challenges that A.I. was forecasted to have on governments around the world.”

Olama said he’s excited about the monumental opportunities for other governments and AI. There’s potential for growth, he said, in improved education, preventive health care and safer roads and cities, along with great economic advantages. The U.A.E.’s ministry has a broad opportunity to create groundbreaking opportunities to change the world, and capitalize on global advancement, he said.

“The growth and rise of nations in the past was seen through two variables: talent and resources,” Olama said. “The more talent that a country has, the more that it can create; and the more that it can develop, and the more resources that the country has, the more it can deploy and the faster it can develop.

“Now, imagine: If the number of talent is bigger in a country compared to another, the advantage of that country over the other is much wider. It is much more probable that Country X can create a talent pool of 30 million people out of its 1.4 billion population, compared to Country Y for example, which has a population of around 40 million.

“Now, what if the number of a country’s population did not matter as much because it can leverage digital and artificial talent through AI? What if we had one system that can outsmart a thousand Nobel laureates and can help invent and create? We would no longer need to focus on quantity; we would look to focus on the development of this system. Similar systems can be deployed to continuously improve education and the methods of delivering knowledge to students; it can help develop cures for incurable diseases while also supporting in preventing illness.”

The upcoming Summit

So, what can be expected from this year’s Summit in regards to future AI projects? Olama was confident about the summit’s aim to bring together a group of the best thinkers and pioneers, even as actions are already being successfully implemented in the AI field. Collaborating with foreign governments to increase awareness and understanding is another goal, he said.

Related: Five Issues UAE Businesses Need To Be Prepared For In 2017

“There will also be unique and inspiring showcases of AI and its impact on the lives of citizens and governments through the Museum of the Future Showcase at this year’s World Government Summit,” Olama said.

Global personalities expeted to attend, the minister said, include Sebastian Thrun, Mark Ribert, Jaan Tallinn and Nick Bostrom.



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