Microsoft unveils UAE-developed, ChatGPT-like AI assistant

Generative AI-powered bot, Mai, can be customised to user requirements and tasks and is being positioned to become a super app

Microsoft's new virtual assistant Mai was demonstrated at Gitex Global in Dubai. Leslie Pableo / The National
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Microsoft has unveiled a new digital assistant powered by generative AI whose capabilities – and looks – can be customised to specific user requirements as the company seeks to build a more sophisticated version of a super application.

The AI bot, called Mai, has a ChatGPT-like interface and can assist users in navigating through tasks or accessing services. It can be trained in any vertical, including services such as health care and education, Naim Yazbeck, general manager of Microsoft UAE, told The National at Gitex Global in Dubai on Tuesday.

The present iteration of Mai, being showcased at the technology conference, has been customised to handle matters related to government services, with queries on renewing an Emirates ID or applying for a driver's licence among its list of tasks.

Its avatar can also be changed: Mai appeared as an Arab woman in its testing and demonstration phase at Gitex.

Microsoft is in early discussions with entities from the UAE's government and the private sector to improve Mai's capabilities and interactions, Mr Yazbeck said.

“Mai's scope for now is very specific to government services just to show the concept. But the opportunity is limitless,” he said.

“We can go after any industry and specific customers. We potentially would like to reach a place where you have something like a super app that does everything. We want to get to a super Copilot that can do everything on your behalf.”

Co-pilot is Microsoft's AI assistant for its applications and services, which include desktop apps such as Word and Excel, and enterprise products. It was released for Windows last month and is set to be available across its other services later this year.

A super app is one that allows users access to a complete, or at least broad, suite of services, such as Dubai-based Careem, one of the Middle East's most recognisable super apps.

“Whether you are applying for a government permit, booking a medical appointment with a hospital or any service you can think of, you have Mai that can help you with that,” Mr Yazbeck said.

Generative AI, the technology made popular by ChatGPT, has sparked a race among companies and personalities seeking to leverage its potential.

Microsoft is one of the leading companies at the forefront of the technology, being the biggest backer of ChatGPT's creator, OpenAI.

Virtual assistants have also evolved into more intelligent iterations, having been integrated with the latest versions of AI and machine learning.

The value of the intelligent virtual assistant market size is projected to hit about $46 billion by 2028, from about $11 billion in 2023, at a compound annual growth rate of 33 per cent, data from Mordor Intelligence shows.

The UAE's thriving digital ecosystem, in which global technology players have flocked, is a significant advantage in developing tools such as Mai, Mr Yazbeck said.

“The UAE has a unique opportunity to lead on generative AI because it has all the building blocks ready and is digitally advanced,” he said.

“There is a commitment from the leadership on leading with technology and lots of data that you need for generative AI.”

The building of platforms such as Mai also requires the involvement of both the public and private sector to ensure that its development is done responsibly, Mr Yazbeck said.

“That is a big responsibility for everyone on how to ethically use AI,” he said.

“The last thing we want is this technology to be misused. ChatGPT was a good example: when you put some guidelines, you get the best use of out of generative AI technology.”

Updated: October 17, 2023, 4:52 PM