The UAE has been leading the region in embracing and deploying emerging technologies with a focus on artificial intelligence (AI) and is also the only country which has launched a strategy for AI.
Smart Dubai Department, a government entity tasked with transforming Dubai into a full-fledged smart city, has been working tirelessly for the past four years in a bid to embrace all emerging technologies and transform it to human experiences, not only to stay at the forefront but also to regulate the technology’s principles and framework.
Speaking to TechRadar Middle East, Younus Al Nasser, Assistant Director-General of the Smart Dubai Department and CEO of Smart Dubai Data Establishment, said: “Our mission is to transform Dubai into the smartest and happiest city on earth and for that, we are humanising technology through innovation. Data comes at the heart of any technology that we are using and we are continuously working to harness the power of data as a key component of the smart city of the future”.
“We are creating different platforms and solutions and that is changing the way we are living in the emirate. We are responsible for governing the data within the city but with the rise of AI and the usage of data around it, the importance of an ethical tool becomes highly needed within the city. We make sure that we have clear guidance and principles that is leading the implementation of AI towards becoming more ethical,” he said.
In 2019, Smart Dubai was the first city to launch ‘Guidelines on Ethical use of AI’, which is a set of principles and guidelines designed to help AI developers, government and society to develop AI in a safe, responsible and ethical way since AI field is not yet mature enough to devise fixed rules to govern it.
In the same year, they launched ‘Ethics Advisory Board’, consisting of private and public sectors, includes Dubai Police, Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (Dewa), Dubai Electronic Security Centre, Dubai Economic Department [consumer protection], MBRSG, IBM, Microsoft and legal firm Eversheds Sutherland.
“The council is responsible for providing the needed and necessary guidance towards how the development of AI guidelines should be and how we should look at the principles. We expect to enhance our guidelines every year and include areas which can enrich further the implementation of AI and support within the emirate of Dubai,” he said.
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Creating tools to identify bias in data
“In 2020, we are focusing on synthetic data to protect privacy, which is all about working with the ecosystem to lower the risks that the self-assessment tool raises in a bid to deliver safe and fair AI through the creation of tools that seek to identify bias in data, help explain algorithms and the decisions AI is making,” Al Nasser said.
“Our approach to broader city governance will be to increase the confidence with which private sector partners will exchange data and build AI,” he said.
However, Al Nasser said that organisations still require guidance and regulators to learn how to oversee the emerging technology but without creating restrictions that could stifle innovation.
“That is why we launched the ‘Ethical AI Toolkit’ to provide advice for all those involved in the AI sector,” he said.
Smart Dubai’s AI approach is focused on four pillars - humanity, equality, ethicality and security.
While there is an unofficial consensus that AI regulation is needed as it can be biased, he said that it is better to develop the technology further and then regulate it rather than overregulation at this stage.
“There will be continuous development around it because technology is moving very fast and we need to be very agile. The focus has been to enable the AI ecosystem rather than the regulations. It is more about technology rather than regulations and to develop more use cases. Regulations will come when the implementations are advancing and it is too early to put regulations now,” he said.
However, he said that it may become a regulated practice after four or five years and form a policy for AI.
Building blocks for future growth
Smart Dubai has launched an AI Lab in 2017 for developing new use cases and he said that more than 40 use cases have been identified from 10 different sectors.
“The steps we are taking at the moment, having an AI Lab, developing use cases across the city, having AI ethics, principles and guidelines, having data exchange and dissemination process, Dubai Pulse feeding city data to the public and government organisations and looking at the potential of exchange of data between the private and public sectors should add value to the economy,” he said.
According to consultancy firm PwC Middle East, the AI could contribute $320b to the Middle East economy by 2030.
Out of the $320b, Saudi Arabia’s contribution could be $135.2b and the UAE with $96b.
“To achieve this, we are building the foundational blocks in place for future growth,” he said.
When it comes for the fourth industrial revolution, he said it requires a lot of focus and requires a little bit of agility.
Data is the new oil of the 21st century; he said and added that Dubai government is playing a key role in deriving value out of the data collected, both from private and public sectors.
However, he said that good AI is dependent on high volumes of data from the public and private data sources, that’s why Smart Dubai is experimenting with decentralised data exchange.
Proof-of-concept with Majid Al Futtaim
Smart Dubai has so far published 530 data sets on its Dubai Pulse platform, a digital backbone powering the Smart City to help spread happiness among all Dubai residents and visitors, and out of that, more than 200 data sets are available for open use.
“Our target, by 2021, is to have 100% of government data available for sharing and exchanging. We have reached over 80% compliance in 2019,” he said.
As part of the data sharing and exchanging, he said that they have identified seven sectors of the economy [telecoms, health, education, real estate, finance, retail and tourism] and they are now creating proof-of-concept in the retail sector to predict how the market is going to be, how retailers are performing and better marketing strategies.
“This is purely for the decision-makers in the industry. We are working together to put the right data and once the proof-of-concept has worked, we are working to bring in more retailers on board and take it to the next level,” he said.
Smart Dubai is working with MAF [Majid Al Futtaim] for the use case with du as the technology provider and DED for endorsing and providing the information.
Right now, he said that Smart Dubai is building a data marketplace in a bid to monetise data through a decentralised platform.
“We are looking to launch the sandbox by the end of the year. At this stage, we are looking at economic impact rather than direct revenue, just to enable the ecosystem to exchange the data. Smart Dubai’s job is to enable the creation of new forms of value out of the city’s data”.
“We are looking at the entire city to drive value out of it. Data provides a lot of opportunities and also comes with many challenges,” Al Nasser said.