AI: a significant opportunity to transform to a knowledge-based creative economy

AI: a significant opportunity to transform to a knowledge-based creative economy

AI to transform industrial sector

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is ready to contribute strongly to numerous sectors in the Middle East, writes Dr Kashif Rajpoot, program director and senior lecturer (Computer Science), University of Birmingham Dubai

March 2020

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is evidently geared up to transform our society and industry. The governments and businesses around the world and in the Middle East are racing to capitalise on investment and innovation in AI in order to reap the fruits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, with many terming AI as the new electricity, due to its transformative power and wide applications in all sectors.

A recent analysis by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has projected AI’s contribution by 2030 to be $320 billion to the Middle East’s economy, with expected GDP contribution of 14 per cent to UAE’s economy and 12.4 per cent of GDP to Saudi Arabia’s economy. The PwC forecast predicted construction and manufacturing to gain the most from the AI benefits in the region by saving time and energy in labour productivity, increased consumption, and increased creativity time. The region is projected to observe 20-34 per cent annual growth in AI contributions to the economy across the Middle East region.

The Gulf states in the Middle East have been relying heavily on oil-based economy for decades, with the petroleum sector currently accounting for 43 per cent of GDP in Saudi Arabia and 34 per cent of GDP in UAE, a recent analysis by Accenture shows. The report by Accenture outlines that traditional economic growth relies on capital, labour, and total factor productivity while an AI driven growth will be complimented by the AI factor as a huge enabler. With oil prices down 38 per cent since 2014, economic diversification is the only way out of this bind and AI presents a significant opportunity to transform to a knowledge-based creative economy. Hence, the Middle East governments are rightly realising AI’s potential to wean them off oil, with AI being a key contributor to Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 national development plan, and the UAE’s AI Strategy 2031.

AI is not a new technology. Its foundations rest on mathematical, statistical, engineering, and computational sciences with decades of hard work put in by brilliant minds around the world ever since the advent of electronic computers in 1940s. AI has seen hype waves in the past decades but it’s the first time in AI’s history that we are witnessing its successful applications deployed around us in wider society, for example on our smartphones in the form of language understanding and translation, and in financial services for loan decision and fraud prevention.

Rajpoot: AI will be integrated into the industry’s processes

Rajpoot: AI will be integrated into the industry’s processes

The current success and popularity of AI owes largely to machine learning and robots. Machine learning concerns computer programs that have the powerful prediction ability of understanding insights from data and experience. This potent ability to predict allows computer programs the amazing capability to make decisions and consequently mimic the human brain. With robots’ mechanical ability and machine learning’s decision-making powers in its armoury, AI is ready to bring the next wave of technological disruption.

When it comes to industry, AI is all set to contribute strongly to numerous sectors in the Middle East. For example, in the construction and manufacturing industry, AI can automate production lines and empower employees to assist them in decision-making in a constrained and complex operational environment. In the energy sector, AI can improve coal-fired power plants to reduce emissions, and with the rise of coal-powered plants in athe Middle East, AI can reduce energy consumption by analysis of data from smart energy meters. In the oil industry, AI is already contributing heavily to oil field exploration, whilst in banking & finance, AI strongly augments loan decision, fraud prevention and customer service. AI can also support in the role of robo-adviser and robo-trader in providing AI-augmented services to the client. In healthcare, AI research shows a positive role in AI-augmented diagnostic and treatment consultations, with AI-based solutions being developed that support continuous patient monitoring for diseases like diabetes and heart disease, which have relatively higher prevalence in Middle East. Personalised healthcare is another frontier where AI can offer assistance by analysing the patient, disease, and drug data. In government services, AI is already behind the early initiatives in smart police, smart immigration, and smart cities.

However, AI is often perceived negatively in popular media, it’s seen as a threat which could displace millions of people from their jobs. This threat is not dissimilar to the threat posed by computer automation and digital transformation during the last few decades, yet in reality, we have actually witnessed the creation of millions of new jobs across the Internet, computer, digital and mobile industry, and transformation of innumerable other sectors of industry. The current and upcoming strengths of AI and computer science will lead to intelligent automation of industry, which will likely displace jobs, but also has every potential to create many more job opportunities since it will require AI skilled professionals to develop these AI-based solutions. Indeed, a 2018 World Economic Forum report forecasted that AI may displace 75 million jobs by 2022 but it will create a net positive of 133 million new jobs.

In a recent analysis by IBM’s Institute for Business Value, research shows that AI’s real value lies in human augmentation, not replacement. The analysis highlights that the AI systems will not become conscious beings but rather that AI will be integrated into the industry’s processes, systems, and interactions. Therefore, companies in the Middle East and around the world need to be aware that it is extremely important for organisations and employees to continuously seek and adapt upskilling opportunities in the area of AI.

A recent report, commissioned by Microsoft and conducted by Ernst & Young, studying major companies in the Middle East and Africa, highlighted that AI is creating new roles both inside and outside the technology industry, and that it is increasingly important to address the growing skills gap. The report emphasised the need to form alliances and collaborations between industry, academia and solution providers, in order to access best practices and AI specialists with technical capabilities.

An excellent precedent is the set-up of the AI Academy initiative by Etihad Airways, in collaboration with Microsoft, whereby all Etihad employees will be given access to online AI training programs, led by instructors, in an attempt to drive companywide AI literacy. This is expected to empower the employees to deliver stronger value to the company and its customers, while simultaneously future-proofing both the employees and the organisation.

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