AI is a necessity not a luxury, says UAE minister Omar Al Olama

Artificial intelligence is making global impact, despite many people not fully recognising it, he tells Dubai AI Retreat

Omar Al Olama, Minister of State for AI, Digital Economy and Remote Work Applications, delivered the keynote at Dubai's 2024 AI Retreat. Photo: Dubai Future Foundation
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Governments around the world need to make sure their services and workforces are adapted to and on the cutting edge of artificial intelligence, said Omar Al Olama, Minister of State for AI, Digital Economy and Remote Work Applications, at Dubai’s AI Retreat.

“AI is not a luxury, it is a necessity in this day and age,” he told the retreat at Museum of the Future, which was attended by more than 1,000 AI experts, policymakers and industry leaders.

Mr Al Olama emphasised that AI is making a significant impact worldwide, despite many people not fully recognising it. While AI is often portrayed as a technology of the future, it is already present and actively shaping our world, he said.

“Each and every single one of you with your phones out right now, if you're recording, if you're texting, and even if you're just going from point A to point B, AI is playing a role in making that happen,” he said, before pivoting to the concept of AI literacy in government and the private sector.

“We want to ensure that the private sector chooses Dubai to invest in talent, deployment and to ensure that AI is built out of this city,” said Mr Al Olama, who in 2017 was appointed the UAE’s first AI minister.

Mr Al Olama also humorously noted that the last two letters of Dubai are AI. “It’s not a coincidence,” he told the audience. “It’s meant to be.”

Held under the patronage of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, the event highlighted the objectives of Dubai’s Universal Blueprint for Artificial Intelligence.

Announced in April, the blueprint seeks to accelerate the implementation of artificial intelligence throughout the emirate and, in turn, bolster economic growth by making Dubai a leading city for AI adoption.

The 2024 AI Retreat comes days after Sheikh Hamdan announced the appointment of 22 chief AI officers to government departments such as Dubai Police, Dubai Roads and Transport Authority, Dubai Electricity and Water Authority and the Department of Economy and Tourism.

“This move will support Dubai’s journey and expertise, and transform its horizons in developing innovative solutions built on advanced technology,” he posted on social media.

“The appointment of the new chief AI officers in the Dubai government is a step in the process of achieving our vision for the future of government work, in line with the Dubai Universal Blueprint for AI,” he added.

Mr Al Olama gave more details about the 22 chief AI officers and their process to secure the roles.

“We didn't just take IT professionals and call them AI officers,” he said. “Each and every single individual went through a rigorous exercise of understanding the knowledge and capabilities of this technology [AI], and also the blind spots of it, because we want to ensure that every adviser in every government department is aware, is capable and is able to make the vision a reality.”

In addition to the keynote speakers and panel discussions at the AI retreat, companies such as Microsoft, Google, IBM, Oracle, Nvidia, SAP and Samsung held workshops for attendees.

Roundtable discussions included themes around computing and digital infrastructure, data regulation, and AI talent ecosystems.

AI-focused companies such as OpenAI and InstaDeep also had a presence at the event.

During a roundtable discussion on the government's involvement in advancing AI technology, Rod Solaimani, Middle East policy and partnerships lead at ChatGPT maker OpenAI, expressed his strong belief in the profound impact that AI will have on society in the near future.

“I think in a few years' time we’re looking at a world where each of us has four or five highly capable digital assistants,” he said. He said these assistants will possess the ability to operate at a level equivalent to that of a PhD.

“We used to think that was 10 years out, but this paradigm shift is much closer than what we thought,” he said.

The UAE aims to emerge as a frontrunner in the artificial intelligence industry as it diversifies away from oil.

Its efforts have resulted in the establishment of numerous start-ups, partnerships, and investments from industry leaders.

In April, Abu Dhabi artificial intelligence and cloud company G42 received a $1.5 billion investment from Microsoft, which will help to strengthen the UAE's position as a global technology hub.

In 2019, the country announced Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence, the world’s first dedicated artificial intelligence university.

In recent years, the UAE has also been able to create several large language models, which are often seen as the backbone of AI implementations.

Updated: June 11, 2024, 2:56 PM