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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Computers can’t replace humans, say UAE and UK industry leaders

Delegates gathered in London at the Global Manufacturing and Industrialisation Summit’s roadshow event, following the inaugural GMIS summit in Abu Dhabi in March

Badr Al Olama, head of GMIS and head of aerospace business unit at Mubadala, says artificial intelligence complements a skilled labour force, rather than competing with it. Photo courtesy of GMIS.
Badr Al Olama, head of GMIS and head of aerospace business unit at Mubadala, says artificial intelligence complements a skilled labour force, rather than competing with it. Photo courtesy of GMIS.

Technology can never replace the human mind, a conference of UAE and UK industry experts discussed in London.

While much has been said about the risks of automation and 'thinking machines' replacing human tasks and jobs, speakers at the Global Manufacturing and Industrialisation Summit's (GMIS) roadshow event agreed that core ‘people skills’ - such as agility, problem solving and leadership - will remain critical in the workforce of the future.

"The reality is, threats like this already exist in the finance sector and in the IT sector,” Badr Al Olama, head of GMIS and director of aerospace at Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala, told the assembled group. “Now they exist in the manufacturing sector as well, as a result of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

However, technological progress does not necessarily mean a displacement of workers, Mr Al Olama noted.

Speaking to The National on the sidelines of the conference, which was jointly organised by the UAE Embassy in London, the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (Unido) and Bloomberg, Mr Al Olama said that artificial intelligence (AI) is complementary to a skilled labour force, rather than in competition with it.

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“AI doesn’t replace the human being, it simply makes humans more effective in doing the job,” he said. “It is a huge opportunity for businesses to enhance what they do.”

At the less-skilled end of the workforce, jobs are more at risk from automation, Mr Al Olama acknowledged. But if governments plan in advance, any displacement can be contained.

“The UAE is already doing that,” he said. “Just two weeks ago, the government launched its strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, developing areas like innovation and future technologies. And they have a plan to accelerate it and make sure the UAE is a global leader in this field.”

The simple narrative of “machines replacing man” was also challenged by Anthony Bruce, head of human resource management at Pricewaterhouse Coopers.

In a presentation entitled “Turning Disruption into Opportunity”, Mr Bruce pointed to a recent PwC survey in which an overwhelming 73% of respondents said they believed technology can never replace the power of the human brain.

Another PwC survey, taken of CEOs, showed the importance that business leaders place on "soft skills" - such as problem-solving, leadership and creativity - which they ranked well above skills such as digital or IT know-how.

"CEOs still need people, and are hiring," Mr Bruce told the audience. "Softer, more human skills are harder to develop, and still incredibly important to the success of organisations.

"Adaptability, trust and leadership are key. And while automation is taking away jobs in some areas, it also creates them in other areas.

He added: "Technology is critical, but without those key people skills, tech will be a hammer looking for a nail."

The inaugural GMIS summit, hosted by the UAE Ministry of Economy and Unidoin Abu Dhabi in March 2017, was the world’s first ever global gathering of the manufacturing community, bringing together 3,000 leaders in government, business and civil society.

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Introducing the London event, Rawdha Al Otaiba, deputy head of the UAE Mission, said that the success of GMIS 2017 confirmed the importance of establishing a global platform for the manufacturing sector to advance innovation and identify new trends and opportunities.

It also forms an important plank of the UAE’s growth strategy, as the country accelerates efforts to diversify its economy away from oil.

“All of our emirates are inviting global companies to set up a manufacturing base in the UAE, to benefit from competitive advantages we have created,” Ms Al Otaiba said.

She added: “All the same time the UAE is developing its own global manufacturing brands, such as Strata manufacturing, a proud manufacturer of Boeing and Airbus parts.

“Developing a sustainable manufacturing sector is a key building block in this journey. Hence why we aim for our manufacturing sector to contribute 25 per cent of our economy by 2025, which currently stands at 11 per cent.”

Concluding her remarks, Ms Al Otaiba said: “Indeed, [the UAE] is blessed in many ways, but that doesn’t stop us from providing for a sound and sustainable future.”

The next GMIS summit is scheduled to be held in 2019.