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AI is emerging as “hottest” area in public policy in Saudi Arabia and the UAE

(Image credit: Jamie Carter)

There is an open debate about the impact of artificial intelligence (AI). Sceptics of AI question how much AI is a “threat” to our privacy, way of life and how much it can ultimately deliver.

 “It’s healthy to approach with a certain sense of humility. People have been talking about the rise of artificial intelligence since Stanford Professor John McCarthy coined the term in 1956,” Sam Blatteis, CEO of The MENA Catalysts, a public policy consulting firm for government innovation arms and high tech multinationals, told TechRadar Middle East

However, Blatteis said that, “there are those who believe that the disruptive potential of AI will have nothing less than the social impact of the industrial revolution, Henry Ford’s assembly line, the invention of flight, and the Internet.”

Blatteis is the former Google Government Affairs head for the Gulf countries. 

“Many believe there may not be a single technology that will shape our world more in the next 50 years than AI,” the MENA Catalysts CEO added, explaining that the potential of AI is not a gimmick at all. Rather, it has rapidly evolved into the hottest area in legislation in the Gulf. 

The Middle East Public Policy firm added that Saudi Arabia recently unveiled a new National Center for AI, a national AI regulator, and a National Data Management Office. The country is already delivering its first AI college.

Meanwhile, the UAE is rolling out a wave of AI-focused research institutes, university degrees, boot camps, and already has a Cabinet position for AI to boot.

Governments release national AI plans 

Blatteis said that “globally, 42 top international governments have released multi-million dollar (and sometimes, billions of dollars) AI plans since 2017 with new budgets, authorities, and headcount to back them up —and this is just the beginning.”

This is the first time governments around the world are simultaneously releasing national plans to develop the same field, The MENA Catalysts CEO said.

When asked whether AI will eliminate or create jobs, Blatteis said that “looking throughout history, a technology commonly creates more and better-paying jobs than it destroys. The state of AI development is constantly evolving. It [AI] is a field of research. Would we regulate biochemistry or mathematics? We’re still learning what we’re dealing with here, and I’m cautious about regulating something before we understand it”, the expert said.

The challenges are, Blatteis said, the rise of Big Data and AI are rendering society’s privacy tools almost obsolete overnight, including the traditional “notice-by-consent”, “opt-out” of a service, and anonymisation of personally identifiable data. Things like full names, dates of birth, and drivers’ license numbers. 

Legislation will be key

“How we legislate AI will become one of the defining themes of the next five years,” the CEO of the MENA Catalysts said. “We need to set strategic ‘rules of the road’ from the start — not to over-regulate, but to provide regulatory predictability to attract expertise, ideas, and capital.” 

Blatteis said that equally important, “long-term, we have to reinvent education. The world of commerce and business has changed rapidly, but that education outcomes are not keeping up,” he said. 

“If the Gulf is to develop knowledge industries of the future, education here must be reimagined. We have to think about how we can ‘hack education’ to reprogram our education system, change course and plot a new education strategy. We should be teaching physics to kindergartners, robotics and computer programming in every school. There are many bright teachers but not one is trained to teach about the future. The basis of AI and computer programming has become a realm of creativity and wild ideas in a bid to achieve the Gulf’s long-term plans beyond the usual m-Government, e-Government and general ICT plans,” Blatteis said.

(Image credit: Future)