Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 17 November 2019

AI university will propel the UAE into the future

The world's first school for artificial intelligence is set to put the country on the map as a tech hub

Visitors interact with a robot during a recent robotics conference in Dubai. Courtesy: EPA
Visitors interact with a robot during a recent robotics conference in Dubai. Courtesy: EPA

Living in the progressive UAE can sometimes feel like living in the future. Diners in one restaurant in Dubai, for example, have already become accustomed to having their meals served by a robotic waitress while the emirate’s police force has the Middle East’s very first robocop within its ranks. Robots with human characteristics tend to capture the imagination when we speak of artificial intelligence but in reality, there is far more to the technology than meets the eye. AI, as it is better known, is omnipresent in our daily lives. In fact, it is now used in a variety of fields, from e-commerce to robot-assisted surgery to face recognition.

To stay one step ahead of the curve, the UAE has launched the world’s first university with a singular focus on AI: the Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI), based in Abu Dhabi. The postgraduate-level research university is accepting applications for its first masters and doctorate programmes this month. And from next year, it will attract the finest minds from around the world, providing the training and expertise they need to shape a future beyond our imagination. They will be coached by such experts in the field as professor Michael Brady, whose experience includes oncological imaging at Oxford University, and professor Daniela Rus, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Their insights and expertise will form a formidable and intricate body of knowledge that students will no doubt benefit vastly from. The finest minds of the future will be honed and sharpened by the smartest minds of today.

This initiative will be pivotal to building a knowledge-based economy in the Gulf - a cornerstone of the UAE’s post-oil future. It will also pave the way for the country to invent the future we wish to live in and create work opportunities in fields that do not even exist yet. But the launch of MBZUAI is not an isolated event. It is part of a wider plan to keep the UAE ahead of the game in developing the technologies that will shape our lives. The UAE is the first country to have appointed a Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, Omar Bin Sultan Al Olama, who was only 27 years old at the time of his nomination, in 2017. The government has also devised UAE 2031, an ambitious AI strategy that is at the heart of the country’s technological transformation. While some are worried about what a future with AI might look like – which The National’s newly appointed Future Editor Kelsey Warner will be shedding light on over the coming months – this new technology has become an intrinsic part of our lives that can no longer be ignored.

Experts predict that AI will make up 14 per cent of the UAE’s economy by 2030. It is not just a catchy buzzword, AI is in fact already a part of our everyday lives and will become a major economic driver in the next decade. And because AI research only exists in a few hotspots in the US and China, the UAE has an opportunity to take the lead in the region. Opening a dedicated research university with the means to accommodate talented students and faculty members will not only put the UAE on the map as a tech hub but also allow it to compete with the finest institutions in the world.

MBZUAI will help scientists, students and tech talents reach for their dreams and shape the future of the Middle East.

Updated: October 16, 2019 07:56 PM

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