UK seeks to take UAE AI collaboration to next level, British minister says

Michelle Donelan, the Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, says the Emirates is ahead of the curve

Michelle Donelan, UK Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, says AI will complement and enhance jobs. Cody Combs / The National
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The UK aims to strengthen its artificial intelligence collaboration with the UAE, a British minister has said.

Michelle Donelan, UK Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, who is on a two-day visit to the UAE, is meeting with academics, businesses and government representatives “to get a full and comprehensive picture of the approach” that the Emirates is taking to AI.

“We also want to collaborate and see how we can deepen those partnerships,” she told The National in Abu Dhabi.

“There's a great deal of synergy in our approaches to focus around safe innovation.”

This technology is going to be transformative, and we need to work together internationally, especially nations like the UK and the UAE
Michelle Donelan, UK Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology

Ms Donelan said she wanted to collaborate on a greater level with the UAE in terms of sharing knowledge and expertise, as well as in terms of AI infrastructure.

“What I want to do with this visit is solidify that collaboration and take it to the next level,” she said.

In 2023, the UK – along with 28 countries, including the UAE – endorsed proposals for mitigating the potential catastrophic harms, whether deliberate or unintentional, from the fast-evolving field of AI, while also harnessing its potential.

The proposals were agreed in the UK at Bletchley Park, the location where British codebreakers used computer intelligence to break the code used by the Nazis to encrypt messages.

Alongside bias and privacy issues, the declaration identified cyber security, biotechnology and misinformation risks as key areas of concern.

Those concerns raised about AI at Bletchley Park were equally matched by the potential for improving conditions across the board for humans.

“AI will complement and enhance jobs,” Ms Donelan said.

“Just a couple of months ago I had a visit at one of the universities in the UK and I saw surgeons utilising AI to perform knee surgery quicker so they could get through more operations each day,” she added, when asked about the upsides of AI.

“It's not about taking jobs away, it's about making it better. Technology always changes the labour market, but it also creates new jobs, ones we can't even imagine right now.”

During Ms Donelan's visit to the UAE, she will also meet Omar Al Olama, Minister of State for AI, Digital Economy and Remote Work Applications.

Mr Al Olama, one of the world's first government ministers appointed to deal with AI, has been at the forefront of discussions calling for a global coalition to regulate the development of the technology.

“We're going to take learnings from one another as we plot out a way forward on this,” Ms Donelan said.

In recent weeks, during the World Governments Summit in Dubai, OpenAI chief executive Sam Altman spoke about the importance of the UAE in driving the conversation and development of AI, when he pushed for the development of a global watchdog system to monitor some of the most powerful AI systems.

“For a bunch of reasons, the UAE would be well-positioned to be a leader in the discussions around that,” he said.

In 2019, well before AI momentum began to build, the UAE opened the Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence, one of the first higher education institutions in the world to have a singular focus on artificial intelligence.

Ms Donelan visited the university during the first leg of her visit on Tuesday.

“It's really interesting and insightful that you have a university dedicated solely to AI,” she said.

Despite the global rally in recent months to try to capitalise on the benefits of AI, along with the need for a regulatory framework and backstops, Ms Donelan said there was even more that can and should be done, and stressed the need to avoid complacency.

“We have to act with speed,” she said.

“This technology is going to be transformative and we need to work together internationally, especially nations like the UK and the UAE, so we can get a grip on those risks, stay on top of them and seize the opportunities for our populations.”

Updated: March 28, 2024, 9:33 AM