How the Gulf region can embrace an AI-enabled future

Necip Ozyucel, cloud & enterprise business group lead, Microsoft Gulf, on how human intelligence can exist with AI for mutual benefit

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How the Gulf region can embrace an AI-enabled future We must see AI as the tool that can transform our thinking about how growth is created, Ozyucel said.
By  Necip Ozyucel Published  June 7, 2018

It’s no longer news that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be a driving force behind the Fourth Industrial Revolution, with the global economic returns of this revolution expected to be in the region of about $16 trillion.

Along with these returns, AI is also expected to create 2.3 million new jobs by 2020, according to Gartner.

However, if we look at previous revolutions, history shows us that these revolutions have always been accompanied by a brief transition of temporary job loss followed by a period of recovery where job creation moves into more positive territory.

This means that we all need to take steps now to prepare AI in the future.

Unleashing a wave of productivity

The WEF’s Future of Jobs analysis found that the adoption of AI will help the Gulf region broaden its manufacturing base, and diversify its economic activities by reducing its independence on oil and gas exports.

The UAE in particular, is leading the charge with their Strategy for Artificial Intelligence, which covers development and application of AI in transport, health, space, renewable energy, technology and education. Saudi Arabia is not far behind with the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman pledging $500 billion to build a new, high tech city called Neom, in which everything will be linked to AI and the Internet of things.

As tech companies are beginning to centre their business models on AI, it’s no surprise that the region wants to be at the forefront of this development. The region is taking every opportunity to leapfrog its way in adopting AI technologies and trends. This is in line with predictions that it is expected to accrue two percent of the total global benefits of the technology by 2030.

The impact of this on productivity will be immense for the region. If channelled properly, AI will create a groundswell and we’re seeing that in industries such as retail, finance and manufacturing. Already we can see Majid Al Futtaim Ventures and Jumeirah Hotels & Resorts using the advanced business intelligence to build richer views of their customers and create more personalised and effective marketing campaigns.

Majid Al Futtaim ventures are using chatbots for internal and external audience to empower their employees and delight their customers and using AI for fraud detection and predictive analysis for their finance.

We are also seeing continuous adoption of AI in government services. DEWA leveraged natural-language processing technology from Microsoft’s Cognitive Services platform to build its Rammas customer-service chatbot, which was launched last year.

Staying ahead of the trends to stay employed

That said, AI is expected to impact existing jobs. This is because AI can replicate certain activities at much greater speed and scale than humans. In some areas, AI could learn faster than humans, if not yet as deeply. Remember, AI is the tool, but humans are the ones to use it to change the world.

According to Gartner, while AI will improve the productivity of many jobs and create millions more new positions, it will impact others. The simpler and less creative the job, the earlier, a bot for example, could replace it.

It’s important to stay ahead of the trends and find opportunities to expand our knowledge and skills while learning how to work more closely and symbiotically with technology.

Another global study by Accenture, found that the adoption of AI will create several new job categories requiring important and yet surprising skills. These include trainers, who are tasked with teaching AI systems how to perform; explainers, who bridge the gap between technologist and business leader; and sustainers, who ensure that AI systems are operating as designed.

It’s clear that successfully integrating human intelligence with AI, so they co-exist in a two-way learning relationship, will become more critical than ever.

Combining STEM with the arts

Young people have a leg up on those already in the working world because they can easily develop the necessary skills for these new roles. It’s therefore essential that our education system constantly evolves to equip youth with the right skills and way of thinking to be successful in jobs that may not even exist yet.

As the division of tasks between man and machine changes, we must re-evaluate the type of knowledge and skills imparted to future generations.

For example, technical skills will be required to design and implement AI systems, but interpersonal skills, creativity and emotional intelligence will also become crucial in giving humans an advantage over machines.

“At one level, AI will require that even more people specialise in digital skills and data science. But skilling-up for an AI-powered world involves more than science, technology, engineering and math. As computers behave more like humans, the social sciences and humanities will become even more important. Languages, art, history, economics, ethics, philosophy, psychology and human development courses can teach critical, philosophical and ethics-based skills that will be instrumental in the development and management of AI solutions.”

This is according to Microsoft president, Brad Smith, and EVP of AI and research, Harry Shum, who recently authored the book “The Future Computed”, which primarily deals with AI and its role in society. 

Interestingly, institutions like Stanford University are already implementing this forward-thinking approach. The university offers a programme called CS+X, which integrates its computer science degree with humanities degrees, resulting in a Bachelor of Arts and Science qualification.

Revisiting laws and regulation

For this type of evolution to happen, the onus is on policy makers to revisit current laws and even bring in new regulations. Policy makers need to identify the groups most at risk of losing their jobs and create strategies to reintegrate them into the economy.

Simultaneously, though AI could be hugely beneficial in areas such as curbing poor access to healthcare and improving diagnoses for example, physicians may avoid using this technology for fear of malpractice. To avoid this, we need regulation that closes the gap between the pace of technological change and that of regulatory response. It will also become essential to develop a code of ethics for this new ecosystem.

Preparing for the future

With the recent convergence of a transformative set of technologies, economies are entering a period in which AI has the potential overcome physical limitations and open up new sources of value and growth.

To avoid missing out on this opportunity, policy makers and business leaders must prepare for, and work toward, a future with AI. We must do so not with the idea that AI is simply another productivity enhancer. Rather, we must see AI as the tool that can transform our thinking about how growth is created.

Earlier this year, Microsoft hosted the company’s inaugural Hackfest, a four-day event where customers from both public and private sector were invited to work with Microsoft’s engineers and data scientists to solve real-world problems using the tools of artificial intelligence. The event demonstrated the power of AI technologies to leading IT decision makers and give them an opportunity to experience capabilities such as machine-learning, advanced analytics, and natural-language processing. Organisations that attended the Microsoft AI Hackfest included Dubai Municipality, DMCC (Dubai Multi Commodities Centre), MBC Group, The United Arab Emirates University, du – from Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company, Al Jaber Engineering & Contracting (ALEC) and the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, Masdar.

At the end, it comes down to a choice of people and economies being part of the technological disruption or being left behind.

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