New AI chief role in UAE federal units reflects long-term strategy, say experts

Understanding the ethical, safety aspects and regulation around AI are major targets to have in mind, say industry figures

The UAE's National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence involves attracting and training talent for future jobs enabled by AI. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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The establishment of a chief executive for artificial intelligence across UAE federal entities highlights the level of preparation required for its talent pool to achieve long-term benefits and position the country as a technology leader, experts have said.

This new role is expected to mirror the past success of positions such as chief data officer, which was able to align organisations globally on data creation and capture, its quality, and insight generation.

But while unlocking the transformative power of AI will likely require the same, if not more, focus on those areas, boosting the talent pool to achieve success will be key, they said.

“Fully integrating AI into an organisation is undeniably a major challenge. It requires a complete transformation of how employees work, interact with each other and clients and utilise appropriate infrastructure and tools,” Jad Haddad, head of digital for India, the Middle East and Africa at consultancy Oliver Wyman, told The National.

“Most importantly, it necessitates a shift in employee mindsets and behaviours. Any such transformation requires a significant amount of change management to ensure employee buy-in alongside a radical shift in processes, tools and infrastructure.”

In addition to the technicalities, understanding the ethical, safety aspects and regulation around AI are major targets to have in mind, Hakim Hacid, executive director and acting chief researcher of the AI Cross-Centre Unit at Abu Dhabi's Technology Innovation Institute, told The National.

“Many can imagine the value that AI could bring to different sectors and can foresee the impact. However, the skills are not there yet. Different models of skilling up the workforce should be considered, taking into account the level and the domain of employees,” he said.

The establishment of a chief executive for AI in all major federal entities was approved during a UAE Cabinet meeting on May 15, where the new 10-year Blue Residency visa, aimed at people who make “exceptional contributions” towards protecting the environment, was introduced.

The AI chief executive move is hoped to help speed up the adoption of advanced technologies in all levels of government and, equally important, also expected to complement the initiatives the UAE has implemented and investments that have been attracted.

“Having C-suite leadership specifically focused on AI is essential given the pace, scale and velocity of the changes we are going through,” Nancy Gleason, an associate professor and director of the Hilary Ballon Centre for Teaching and Learning at New York University Abu Dhabi, told The National.

In 2017, the Emirates unveiled its National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence, mapping out “rigorous dedication and clear steps” to harness the technology, centred on eight pillars, one of which is to attract and train talent for future jobs enabled by AI.

AI is among the top 10 skill shortages listed by employers in the UAE, according to the Cooper Fitch 2024 UAE Salary Guide.

With AI on course to contribute approximately $96 billion to the UAE’s economy by the end of the decade, qualified and experienced technology candidates are likely to remain in high demand among large tech companies and government entities alike, the recruitment consultancy said.

Meanwhile, the first batch of students to enrol at Abu Dhabi's Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence graduated in January 2023. They have degrees in computer vision and machine learning, both key for AI.

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Preparing individuals at all levels to take on AI-centric roles is therefore key to a streamlined integration of the technology into organisations; talent is critical, given that AI is “highly technical and necessitates a deep understanding of highly complex processes and technologies”, Mr Hacid said.

“Training and upscaling of every single employee is necessary. It’s true that the pace of changes is intense, but learning about the tools is not necessarily about long-term deployment of their use – it is more about the learning process of adapting to constant technological disruption,” Ms Gleason added.

Updated: May 21, 2024, 3:00 AM