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AI is the fuel to develop non-oil industries in UAE

Sam Blatteis

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has passed an inflection point and is slated to bring trillions of dollars of investment return, on a timescale shorter than we think, said an industry expert.

Sam Blatteis, CEO of The MENA Catalysts and former Google Government Affairs head for the Gulf countries, told TechRadar Middle East in an exclusive interview that AI is forecasted to drive 95 percent of all customer interactions by 2025 and AI is the fuel to develop Emirati non-oil industries such as healthcare, transportation, education, critical infrastructure, economic development and customer service.

The UAE has the strategic need, leadership vision, confidence in AI, deep resources and a manageable population to shift to the vanguard of the government AI arena, Blatteis said.

“AI could have a world of impact in government public-facing services, for instance in call centres. Trained call centre representatives for social services are in short supply and costly to train. These are ripe for automation. Government bodies here have already rolled out machine-learning-based “chatbots” to automate and, theoretically, improve customer service,” he said.

Moreover, he said that AI can develop better parole screening questions and has the potential to make government substantially more efficient and citizen-friendly. However, that there is an open debate about the impact of AI.

Is AI a threat?

On one hand, he said the AI sceptics question how much of the hype on AI is “reality”, “feasible” or a “threat”.  It’s healthy to approach with a certain sense of humility; he said and added that the 20th century saw scores of situations where technology was exploited in some of the darkest moments in modern history.

On the other hand, he said that there are those that believe 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.

“Many believe that there may not be a single technology on track to shape our world more in the next 50 years, than AI,” he said.

Since March 2017, 18 governments globally have released multi-million dollar (or in some cases, multi-billion-dollar) AI plans — with the budgets, authorities and headcount to back them up. 

Ten other governments have announced their intention to release a strategy before 2019’s close, with more likely to follow suit and this is the first time that governments around the world have almost simultaneously released national plans to develop the same technology, including the UAE.

Ethical concerns over business interests

Despite AI being the new buzzword in the industry, there have been debates about whether companies should prioritise ethical concerns over business interests to have trust and transparency in AI.

In many fields from nuclear tech to bioengineering, he said that humanity often builds tools that “we discover can harm us, and only afterwards, set out to develop the safety measures to protect the public.  This time has to be different.  Technology governance will become one of the defining themes of the next five years,” Blatteis said.

“Whatever new laws there are in the future here, have to respect the hazards of powerful technology, foster technology development, and unleash its (AI’s) economic and public policy rewards,” he said.

The other big debate is the loss of jobs due to automation and robots.Regarding this, he said that almost half of the UAE’s workplace activities are susceptible to automation but throughout history, a technology commonly creates more, and better-paying, jobs than it destroys.