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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 19 July 2018

The UAE will save billions thanks to artificial intelligence, says AI minister

The reality of how AI will revolutionise the way the government operates is revealed

Omar Bin Sultan Al Olama , Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, says AI will transform how the UAE operates. Pawan Singh / The National
Omar Bin Sultan Al Olama , Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, says AI will transform how the UAE operates. Pawan Singh / The National

Artificial intelligence (AI) is going to save the UAE billions of dirhams – and could help save lives – when it becomes fully integrated by the government.

That was the message from Omar Sultan Al Olama, Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, who was speaking at the launch of the UAE’s first-ever AI summer camp, which is taking place in Dubai over the next two months.

For some people artificial intelligence is the domain of clichéd science-fiction novels and movies with computers becoming self-aware and overthrowing humanity. But that could not be further from the case, said Mr Olama, who said that AI will become a force for good that eventually improves lives across the whole world.

More than 2,200 students have registered for the summer camp, which Mr Al Olama believes will help to educate the next generation to transform all sectors of life here in the UAE.

One area in which Mr Al Olama believes it will show immediate benefits for the government is in efficiency.

“Infrastructure and development costs are still very high, we are talking about billions of dirhams being spent and that is because of the low efficiency of the sector,” he said.

“Sometimes when you pave a road then it does not come out like you expected, you have to repeat the whole process which costs a lot of money. With AI you can plan it out so it is done more efficiently, even if it only results in a 10 per cent saving that could be Dh10 million or Dh100m in some cases.”

The medical sector could also be transformed by AI, according to Mr Al Olama.

“Today the best skin cancer doctors on Earth can make a diagnosis with an accuracy of 86 per cent, the best AI system can make an accurate prediction of 97 per cent,” he said.

“It means that, if we can implement that across the UAE, it will make the government much more efficient.”

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There has been a huge interest in the initiative with places on the summer camp selling out within 24 hours, and Mr Al Olama believes that is a clear indication that the UAE is ready to fully embrace AI.

The AI summer camp is designed to educate young people on what the possibilities with AI are and also to encourage them to embrace it and “see where they can play a role”.

“Even if we only get 10 per cent of the students taking part going on to pursue a career in AI it will prove worthwhile,” he said.

“In the UAE we don’t believe in following. We want to be at the forefront and we know that artificial intelligence is going to benefit the lives of billions of people across the world.”

Tarek Saeed, chief artificial intelligence officer with IBM, opened the summer camp by making a presentation to the students.

Like Mr Al Olama, he emphasised that artificial intelligence will primarily be used to improve people’s lives. He was dismissive of the suggestion that, as technology improves, more people will find themselves out of work and replaced by machines.

“Yes, there will be an impact on jobs but the technology is there as a way of complementing jobs,” he said during his address.

“There are areas that humans will always be better than machines in – areas like creativity and empathy are traits that machines struggle with. Where AI excels is in the collection of data.”

He also urged people to be aware of the value of their data.

“When you sign up for something for free and you are asked for your details you should remember that it is actually you that is the product,” he said.

“Your data is valuable to companies.”