MBZUAI president: Artificial intelligence can transform health care and energy

Prof Eric Xing says the university in Masdar City wants to train a new generation of thinkers and entrepreneurs

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - Dr. Eric Xing, President of Mohammed Bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence in Masdar City. Khushnum Bhandari for The National

Artificial intelligence is helping doctors to make better decisions and improve patient care, the president of Abu Dhabi’s pioneering artificial intelligence university has said.

Professor Eric Xing, head of Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence, said health care is ideal as an application for AI because it generates so much data, as proven by the Covid-19 pandemic.

During an interview with state news agency Wam, Prof Xing cautioned that healthcare providers had yet to realise its full potential. He also spoke of the university’s aspirations to build a new generation of entrepreneurs in Abu Dhabi, a feat Stanford University has achieved in the US through Silicon Valley.

It is the dandelion effect at work – as the wind blows, the seeds spread
Professor Eric Xing

“AI can help doctors derive more insights from clinical data to improve their understanding of their patients and make better decisions,” Prof Xing said. “Unlike human doctors, AI can analyse the data of millions of patients at once.”

Prof Xing said the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the potential of AI, with scientists using it to research vaccines, monitor the spread of the coronavirus and conduct contact tracing.

“We have prioritised AI and healthcare in our research at MBZUAI since its inception,” he said. Prof Xing described the work as “safe and responsible AI”.

The university was launched in 2019 and Prof Xing became president a year later. The first postgraduate students enrolled in January.

MBZUAI aims to create a world-class centre for AI learning, research and development in the UAE to help build the country’s knowledge economy.

Prof Xing was previously associate head of research at Carnegie Mellon University’s machine learning department, one of the leading AI research institutes in the world.

Another area ripe for research was energy, he said. AI could develop models for oil recovery, reduce carbon emissions, increase water and power efficiency, and manage other aspects of energy generation, shipment and transmission.

To Prof Xing, creating a university dedicated to AI is a unique experiment. He said that very few universities in the world specialise in a single discipline, but pointed out that AI touches on biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics, among other subjects.

Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI) Campus n Masdar City, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Wam

“Stanford University offers an excellent analogy for MBZUAI,” he said. “Silicon Valley owes its origin and success to Stanford University. The university leased its land to the public and allowed the faculty to build startups.

“As a result, information technology giants such as HP and Dell were founded by students and faculty from Stanford. It is the dandelion effect at work – as the wind blows, the seeds spread.

“Similarly, by nurturing a culture of research and innovation, we are confident we can create a new generation of entrepreneurs in Abu Dhabi.

“Our location at Masdar City, a regional hub for technology innovation, is beneficial as our graduates can quickly assimilate into a thriving innovation-driven environment.”

The university may be young but it is already exploring research opportunities with the Technology Innovation Institute at the Advanced Technology Research Council in the capital.

“We also want to support UAE’s innovation clusters and AI startups, aligned with Abu Dhabi’s ambition to become a leading tech talent and innovation destination,” he said. The university has also taken part in events organised by Hub71, a startup organisation in the city.

Prof Xing was also recently appointed as a council member of the UAE Genomics Council, something of which was very proud.

“The programme aims to transform the health and well-being of Emiratis with genomics and artificial intelligence,” he said. “Genomics promises to make precision medicine treatments a reality.”

Looking ahead, Prof Xing said he wants the university to be a new home for academic and scientific life, building a reputation far beyond the campus walls as a place where progressive thinking flourishes.

“The best universities are not remembered for the technologies they invented. Instead, they are recognised for being a thought capital or a unique symbol of a region’s culture and innovation power. As a new institution, I believe we can create such an environment, adding to the culture while bringing in more new ideas,” he said.

“We are privileged to receive the support and the enthusiasm of both the leadership and the community in ways other graduate schools do not.”

Updated: July 04, 2021, 1:25 PM