Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 August 2019

UAE leaders summit hears governments need to unite to face the growing challenge of artificial intelligence

Leading strategist argues mankind’s response to new technologies will be 'defining moment'

Neil Jacobsohn
Neil Jacobsohn

The world’s superpowers must unite to face the growing challenge posed by the development of artificial intelligence, an expert has said.

Neil Jacobsohn, a leading government strategist, argued mankind’s response to new technologies would come to be seen a “defining moment” in our history.

He warned that a retreat into isolationism - represented by both Donald Trump’s presidency and Brexit - had come at the worst possible time.

He said it was becoming clear that one impact was its hampering of international efforts to collaborate on anticipating and adapting to new scientific knowledge.

“Artificial intelligence is going to be a defining moment in human history and governments have to understand how profound the changes are that are coming, and actually talk to each other,” he said.

“Who’s going to stop China developing AI weapons? Who’s going to stop North Korea?

“Technology is agnostic – it’s neither good nor bad. It’s what you do with it that counts.

“What terrifies me is at the very point where humankind needs to come up with some common approaches, we’ve got nations, sadly like the United States, saying ‘it’s America first, we’re going to put up walls and trade sanctions’.

“Suddenly, we’ve hit this wave of right-wing nationalism - personified by Trump and Brexit - with people saying ‘it’s about us, we don’t care about the rest of you’ and that is a fatal approach and it’s the worst possible time.”

Mr Jacobsohn, a self-declared ‘futurist’, made the comments to The National after addressing officials at the UAE government’s Annual Meeting in Abu Dhabi.


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The two-day event attended by federal, regional and local authorities aims to debate national strategy and review the achievements of 2017.

Mr Jacobsohn said issues over who will be to blame if an automated car kills a pedestrian or what vehicles should be programmed to do if a crash is unavoidable were questions humans were so far unable to provide answers to.

He also highlighted the genetic engineering of human beings and use of AI in weaponry as additional issues which urgently needed to be addresses.

Mr Jacobsohn, who is from South Africa, praised Emmanuel Macron of France for his attempts earlier this month to help bring countries together to discuss the implications of artificial intelligence.

The UAE was represented at a Paris summit by Omar Al Olama, the minister for artificial intelligence, and has backed President Macron’s agenda.

However, Mr Jacobsohn said crucial nations like Russia, the US and China had proved reluctant to engage.

He also urged businesses and governments to develop “memories of the future,” meaning they attempt to anticipate and adapt to long-term trends rather than only focusing on delivering short-term results.

He praised the UAE for its attempts to plan well into the future and said he was hopeful that millennials would prove more responsible than his generation in combating issues such as climate change.

However, he said collaboration between nations was crucial if humanity was to solve the “profound problems” it faces.

“These problems are not national problems,” he said. “These are not going to be solved by one government or another.

“They have to be solved by collaboration between governments and if ever there was a time for humanity to say ‘let’s put aside our differences’ and focus on what’s going to shape us as human beings in the next 50 years, this is the time to do it.”

Updated: November 27, 2018 05:58 PM