The UAE's early adoption of AI comes with a few challenges and big payoffs

While the global landscape grapples with the challenges of adopting AI, countries such as the UAE are distinguishing themselves with strategic initiatives

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 01 MAY 2019. General image from the AI Everything event for STANDALONE. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: None. Section: National.
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As AI emerges as a top strategic priority for several nations and organisations, especially with the business opportunities it presents, concerns persist about its effect on highly skilled jobs. This raises questions about the risks associated with advanced technology adoption and increasing digitisation.

The World Economic Forum estimates that technological advances will radically transform 1.1 billion jobs in the next decade, causing significant labour market disruptions. Further, a recent analysis by the International Monetary Fund has stated that AI will affect almost 40 per cent of jobs globally, with advanced economies likely to witness an impact on about 60 per cent of jobs.

While developed nations face growing concerns about the impact of AI on highly skilled jobs, emerging market economies may experience fewer immediate disruptions as they have yet to fully leverage the advantages of this technology. However, this discrepancy could potentially deepen the digital divide and contribute to cross-country income disparities. Therefore, the immediate priority should be on laying a strong foundation through investments in digital infrastructure and the development of a digitally competent workforce.

In a survey published in January by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), the Middle East was shown to have taken a clear lead over other geographies – including Europe, Asia, Africa, and North and South America – regarding plans to increase tech and AI/generative AI investments this year. The region also outperformed others when it came to training, with more than a quarter of workers being equipped to use generative AI tools.

According to research from PwC, the Middle East expects an annual AI growth rate ranging from 20 to 34 per cent, projecting a potential impact of $320 billion by 2030. Business leaders and workers in the region express a unique blend of optimism and concern regarding the risks and benefits of AI adoption. Notably, a BCG report in December found that 84 per cent acknowledge that AI is likely to transform their jobs. However, a significant 60 per cent in the Middle East believe that their jobs will become obsolete due to this technology – a contrasting view compared to the global perspective, where 36 per cent share a similar belief.

While the global landscape grapples with the challenges of AI adoption, certain nations are distinguishing themselves with strategic initiatives. Among them, the UAE stands out as a country that has harnessed the optimism for AI, strategically positioning itself at the forefront of AI preparedness. As early as 2017, the UAE launched its National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence and announced plans to establish itself as a global leader in this field by 2031. At the core of this strategy is a commitment to lay a strong groundwork to train the workforce and attract as well as train talents for jobs of the future.

Seven out of 10 employees want AI to be a mandatory part of formal education before the age of 18

Being an early AI adopter and innovator, the UAE is poised to be the biggest beneficiary of AI adoption, accounting for close to 14 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product by 2030, according to PwC research.

As the country focuses on constructing a robust digital infrastructure, it is concurrently attracting talent and fostering investment through strategic partnerships with industry leaders, as well as collaborations with leading public and private institutions.

The UAE has also prioritised the introduction of training programmes, and it is implementing continuous learning and development initiatives to nurture a resilient workforce and keep up with changing market expectations. For the younger generation, a future-ready education is on the rise, with more than 20 higher education institutions integrating AI and AI-related fields into their offerings to meet real-world industry demands.

However, despite the strong emphasis on innovation and technology and the optimism among workers regarding the value of tech and digital skills, the UAE faces a growing digital skills gap.

A survey from ServiceNow, a US software company, reveals that slightly more than half of workers in the UAE believe that their formal education isn’t enough to prepare them for the modern workplace. Additionally, seven out of 10 employees want AI to be a mandatory part of formal education before the age of 18. According to the survey, compared to their counterparts in the regions spanning Europe, the Middle East and Africa, 74 per cent of workers in the UAE regard AI as the biggest opportunity for the future of the workforce, with 79 per cent emphasising AI and digital skills as competitive advantages.

A similar trend persists globally. With nearly 90 per cent of workers expected to use AI in their daily tasks by 2028 and workers with AI skills commanding up to 47 per cent higher salaries, governments worldwide recognise that the cost of falling behind is high. Preparing a billion people for an AI-driven world necessitates greater public and private sector co-operation to create more equal opportunities for everyone.

The journey into the AI era underscores the critical need for collective efforts. Governments, businesses and educational institutions must collaborate to understand how AI will reshape workforce skills, establishing new learning and career pathways. Introducing foundational AI training into school curriculums, in partnership with digital providers, ensures that the younger generation is equipped to thrive in the evolving work landscape.

This collaborative approach is essential as we navigate challenges and seize the opportunities presented by AI, working together to shape a future where technology enhances the workforce, fostering inclusive growth and equal opportunities for all.

Published: February 07, 2024, 7:00 AM