UAE on its way to becoming global AI leader: Minister

The UAE’s push for artificial intelligence (AI) has been in the works for the last 20 years — and today, it is bearing fruit, a minister said on Monday. The country, currently a regional leader in the digital economy, is on its way to becoming a big AI player on the global front.

For the UAE, the next phase will all be about unleashing human ingenuity, said Omar bin Sultan Al Olama, Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, Digital Economy and Remote Work Applications.

“AI is an opportunity that we shouldn’t let go...And the UAE, the Arab world’s second-largest economy, is set to benefit the most in the region from AI adoption,” the minister said as he inaugurated the fourth edition of Artelligence — The Artificial Intelligence Forum, which was organised by Khaleej Times and held under the patronage of the National Programme for Artificial Intelligence.

The country’s AI journey started long before smart tech became a buzzword.

“When the Internet became mainstream, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, talked about reinventing the government, saying we need to embrace the revolutionary changes the Internet is bringing in, such as the shift to electronic communications to mobile and smart government.

“This has become a crowd-puller for the UAE, as we saw the best industry players, such as Careem and Souq, moving to the country and being acquired for hundreds of millions of dollars,” thr minister said.

The UAE Government launched its Artificial Intelligence Strategy in 2017, setting up an AI ministry that will map out the road ahead.

“After appointing me as the minister of AI, Sheikh Mohammed directed me to go around the world and see what other countries doing on these lines, learn from them and draw inspiration from them. We spent the first year observing those and creating programmes within the government to take decisions to take us forward. Those programmes today are bearing fruit, positioning the UAE as a global leader in AI,” Al Olama said.

Now, the country is accelerating the pace of its AI development.

“The next phase is to go through a process of 10X the digital economy of the UAE to improve the quality of standards and companies in order to make our mark in the digital economy landscape.”

Instead of directing the private sector to hire and train people, the UAE has moved towards attracting talents from around the world, Al Olama said, pointing to the new visa reforms announced recently by the UAE Government.

As part of the Projects of the 50, the country is aiming to bring in over 100 coders and programmers every single day for the next 365 days.

“Each of these coders can contribute to established companies or create their own companies and grow and become CEOs. We ran a survey with LinkedIn and found that we have over 30,000 programming-related experts in the UAE today. The number is substantial for a country this size. We want to double and triple it in the course of the next few years as we have the resources,” Al Olama said.

“What excites me the most is the inflow of global companies moving their headquarters to the UAE. There is a huge number of developers and talented people moving to the UAE and calling it home. This era of change — which started as the vision and dream of Sheikh Mohammed — is becoming reality. And we are going to see a rate of progress not seen before.”