UAE business leaders see AI an 'indispensable tool' for companies post-Covid, GE report finds

Healthcare ranks as the top industry to make 'significant' progress in innovation over the last six months, according to the GE Global Innovation Barometer

More than two-thirds of UAE business leaders say Artificial Intelligence-led innovations will be even more important to their companies in a post-Covid era, according to General Electric.

More than three-quarters of UAE executives expect AI will improve the remote work experience for employees, allowing more people to work from home and focus on more high-level productive tasks, according to the 2020 GE Global Innovation Barometer survey released on Wednesday.

Nearly 40 per cent said AI will be an "indispensable tool" in the fight against Covid-19 and possible future pandemics, while 38 per cent said AI will reduce costs, giving employees more job security.

"AI is seen as important to facilitate new innovations and improve the working experience especially for remote working employees," the report said. "AI is a catalyst for innovation, and an indispensable tool."

The seventh edition of the survey illustrates how perceptions of business executives have changed in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

GE surveyed business executives shaping their company's innovation policies and decisions. The Global Innovation Barometer, which was conducted in January and in September, surveyed more than 3,400 executives in 22 markets including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, China, India, Brazil, France and the US.

In the UAE, GE polled 102 innovation executives in September and 101 in January.

The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the use of AI by companies – which includes subfields like machine learning, natural language processing and computer vision – to wield competitive advantages.

The UAE's focus on the fourth industrial revolution and drive to attract talent by easing rules on visas and foreign ownership of companies has made it a "beacon of open borders" and innovation, Dalya Al Muthanna, president and chief executive of GE Gulf, said in a media webinar.

In terms of innovation among industries, healthcare ranked highest in making significant progress in innovation over the last six months during the pandemic, according to UAE executives surveyed.

High tech and IT, telecoms and internet, communications, electronics and media and culture rounded off the top five industries making inroads in innovation during the period, according to UAE business leaders.

Companies that fail to innovate and keep up with advances in technology will face major challenges and may not survive in the next five years, Ms Al Muthanna told reporters.

Some 85 per cent of UAE business leaders said innovation plays a crucial role in protecting public health and well being, according to the survey. There is an even bigger need now to use innovative solutions for public health challenges, according to 88 per cent of the UAE respondents.

Global executives were asked about the country they see as the innovation champion in the world. Some 24 per cent of Middle East executives selected China.

Executives in the Emirates see the UAE as the top innovator globally, ahead of the US, Japan and China, according to the survey.

Asked which markets develop an innovation-friendly climate, 4 out of 10 global business executives said the UAE has created an "innovation-conducive environment" ahead of Finland, India, Italy and Malaysia, according to the GE survey.

The US, Japan, China, Germany, and the UK lead the barometer as the top five nations for an innovation-conducive environment.

The majority of global and UAE executives agreed that is more important for innovation to deliver long-term benefits to society and the environment rather than short-term profitability, GE said.

The UAE was among the first Arab nations to realise the impact that AI will have on its economy. In 2017, the government rolled out an AI strategy, dubbed UAE 2031, outlining plans to use the technology to make governance more efficient and identifying eight sectors it aims to transform including space, renewable energy, water and education. The country also appointed the world’s first Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, Omar Al Olama.

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