Making artificial intelligence real for businesses in the UAE

Martin Adams, a renowned artificial intelligence expert on why businesses should invest in the next big technological disruptor

Tags: Codec (codec.ai)United Arab Emirates
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Making artificial intelligence real for businesses in the UAE
By  Neil Halligan Published  May 29, 2019

Arriving home after a long day, the temperature in the room is set at a perfect 22 degrees; just how you like it. Turn on the TV and your new favourite show has been picked out for you.

As you go to bed, the music you listen to has been chosen to perfectly suit the mood, without having to make the choice.

Idyllic or not, it’s the world of artificial intelligence (AI) that makes these decisions: Nest, the company owned by Google, sets the temperature at your perfect level, self-adjusting throughout; Netflix uses AI algorithms to choose the right TV show or movie, based on the data it has collected on you, and on-demand music service Spotify has worked out what the best pre-sleep music is.

From the days when Microsoft Word autocorrected misspelt words as you typed, AI has increasingly become a part of our everyday lives.

The United Arab Emirates, in particular, has acknowledged the importance of the fast-developing technology by appointing its own minister responsible for implementing its AI 2031 strategy.

At the heart of it is the prediction of a 50 percent saving in annual costs by using AI in education, transportation, energy, technology and its space programme.Businesses, too, have been utilising the technology to automate fairly basic predictable and repeatable processes that humans have been involved in.

Martin Adams, whose company Codec specialises in providing AI-based insights, said it allows creative decision makers in business to accurately engage with target audiences.

“I think what’s exciting is as the AI space matures, and as business understanding of technology matures, we will start to see AI being used in more creative pursuits to unlock human creativity and enforce more strategic insight for human decision making,” he said.

A big claim, but in the four-plus years since Adams’ UK-based firm was founded, it has already worked with leading global brands like Accor, Lipton (Unilever), Pfizer and Samsung, helping their operations in the Gulf region.

Breaking down the jargon and being able to adapt AI to a real business scenario, Adams said AI can help target potential customers by breaking down large amounts of data to draw important conclusions about customers or potential customers, particularly in the hospitality industry, where AI can help build a real picture of what guests want.

“Humans aren't good at analysing big sets of data and finding patterns that can tell them what to do, and so they actually struggle to really ‘know their customer’ as well as they could. And this is what leads to a superior guest experience so it’s absolutely crucial,” he said.

“AI can be used to enable more personalised experiences and more 'stand out' experiences. Hotels need this more than ever, given the rise of alternative accommodation options like Airbnb and similar sites.”

Collecting the data

Adams said most medium-sized businesses (and smaller) won’t have enough data to put into use, and will have to employ a third party service provider that has managed to amass enough data from a mixture of different sources.

He said his own firm Codec has invested in AI that captures publicly available social media content and classified it to make it adaptable for any number of small, medium or large companies for use in their marketing and communication planning decisions.

“No individual brand is going to have the time or the resource or the skills to be able to invest in building out those algorithms to capture that level of data,” said Adams.

“So it's a good example where companies really do need to go out to the market to be able to access AI. It's a very small tier of companies that will have enough proprietary data to build accurate models that allow them to achieve the sort of results in terms of actually driving revenue and driving bottom line difference,” he adds.

Machines vs humans

Research firm PwC has predicted that AI could contribute $320 billion to the Middle East economy by 2030, equivalent to 11 percent of GDP, with the greatest gains to be made in the UAE (contribution of up to 13.6 percent GDP in 2030) and KSA (12.4 percent).

The same firm, however, predicts that nearly 30 percent of jobs could be wiped out by AI and robots over the next 30 years.

Companies like Alawwal Bank – one of the oldest in the region – have taken the lead on this and began training its entire workforce in the basics of AI in a bid to educate staff on its applications in the financial sector.

Adams said companies should be similarly proactive and “allocate time and resources to training internally for their workers to understand what this means for their particular roles in the future”.

“While roles will change or disappear, new ones will open up and the best people to identify the opportunities will be to the current workforce whose jobs are changing, not the boardroom who are simply making executive decisions,” he said.

Mainstreaming AI

Returning to the UAE, and the appointment of its own Minister for AI, Adams said it’s a move that will set a trend globally in the years to come.

“The one thing I've been extremely impressed with so far in the Gulf region has been the serious responsibility - more serious I would say than any other than any other regions I've seen - is where the state is actually viewing it as its responsibility to equip the workforce for this sort of technological platform in the future,” he said.

“The governments in the Gulf region are actually saying we will equip people to have the right degrees, to create the right jobs and to essentially create the right space for them to adapt to those new jobs. That's been very, very impressive and if I look at Europe and the US that it's all been really left to the private market and the big tech companies themselves to create that learning. And I think that will leave a lot of people behind and I think that could be a big shame,” he added.

He said the Minister for AI in the UAE sends out a message that “this is not a fad and not a narrow technological kind of application.”

“It’s a fundamental new arrival on the business and technology landscape, and I think it’s very intelligent to show that the UAE is open for business in this new space,” Adams said.

He added that the UAE has effectively introduced AI at the heart of business decisions, introducing it from the outset, as opposed to being an after-thought. 

Future of AI

All but the very smallest of companies will, in some way, be using AI in a productive sense – getting a return on investment, he said.

“I think that AI will touch every aspect of human decision making - from politics to corporate strategy to corporate training. I think it will touch every element of strategic and creative decision making and that will more than what it currently does which is mainly focus on efficiency and productivity,” he said.

“I think that the Gulf region, given not only the resources that it's putting in but also the mind-set that it has around training people to be ready for this for this kind of AI-enabled business age, I genuinely think stands to be up there at the very, very top.”

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