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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Time to accept the robot revolution

How will the workplace change with virtualisation, robotics, and AI?

Workers will need to operate alongside their robotic colleagues. Nicky Loh/Bloomberg
Workers will need to operate alongside their robotic colleagues. Nicky Loh/Bloomberg

The rapid and accelerating evolution of technology is already impacting most people's lives and that is set only to increase. Here, Ibrahim Nassir, a senior executive at the Dubai-based telecoms firm du, talks to The National about the issues involved and how they may affect this region.

What will the impact of new technologies be on economies?

The future of the workplace is drastically transforming. We are seeing that connectivity and ICT solutions are a major component bringing about this transformation, which is being driven by connected work spaces, translating into a nimble and agile workforce driving productivity and efficiency. Work spaces of today have also increased in sophistication in regards to storage, security, self-service and collaborative work streams, all of which are key examples of where this change is happening. A key example of artificial intelligence is digital assistance, which will fruition and become another key area contributing to an enhanced working environment. When it comes to an economic impact, virtualisation, robotics, and artificial intelligence will change the face of brick and mortar businesses, and as a result will give rise to the new digital business models. This will not only bring enhanced services and solutions but it will shape the way experiences are delivered, ushering in a profound economic impact on vested parties.

When will the technology be intelligent enough to replace white collar workers?

The ongoing debate about technology displacing workforces has been topical, but the fact is that technology and the workforce have to co-exist. It is also imperative that we address larger issues that look at how technology will displace various skill sets. In particular, this is something that governments, industries, academia and citizens need to focus on when creating sustainable models to upskill and propagate new work streams that will define the future.

Humans are set to be replaced by technology – how do you deal with the rise of unemployment that will inevitably cause?

Even at the stage of development we are at now, technology will not replace humans - the bigger question is will we see a larger displacement of the workforce? Technologies such as driverless cars create a certain perception of workplace displacement, in regards to specific sections of the labour force in the future. Vested stakeholders should actively look at developing sustainable models to upskill and generate new forms of work streams of the future. Technology will always co-exist with human workforces, one really cannot do without the other.

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How well placed is the region in implementing these new technologies?

The Middle East region has tremendous potential and we will see a semantic shift in the adoption of robotics, virtualisation and artificial intelligence. Currently, the UAE in particular is conducting trials that will shape and define the future of citizens and businesses in this country. However, when any new technology is implemented it needs to be commercially viable, sustainable and, most importantly, it needs a mature eco-system to form the bedrock for any effective implementation. With this set, active deployment of such new technologies can happen on a vast scale. The region and the UAE are very well poised in realising such forward thinking ideas and technologies.

What are the challenges?

The eco-system of the UAE and across the region still has a long way to go and is constantly developing. When it comes to implementing such new technologies, a mature eco-system is required in order for technologies to be implemented into workplaces and society successfully. Other challenges organisations may face when trying to implement robotics, virtualisation, and artificial intelligence will include questions on whether these technologies are commercially viable and sustainable for the organisation in the long term.

Ibrahim Nassir is the chief human capital and administration officer for du

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