Abu Dhabi's first AI university students graduate in ‘very special year’

MBZUAI chairman Dr Sultan Al Jaber implores the 52 graduates to work with urgency in a time of great change

Dr Sultan Al Jaber speaks of 'very special year ahead' at UAE's first AI university

Dr Sultan Al Jaber to Abu Dhabi's first AI university: 'Very special year ahead'
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The first batch of students to enrol at Abu Dhabi's artificial intelligence university graduated on Monday amid a surge of interest in the subject.

Nearly two thirds of the students are going into employment, PhD placements, paid internships or start-up businesses — and of those, 91 per cent plan to remain in the UAE, the university said.

Dr Sultan Al Jaber, Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology, and chairman of the board of trustees of the Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence, urged graduates to embrace the moment, with AI at the intersection of so many issues.

“Remember, progress is driven by curiosity, constructive dialogue, connectivity, hard work, patience — and impatience. So, get out there and be impatient and impactful for the betterment of humanity," he told an audience of graduates and dignitaries, including Sheikh Theyab bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

Progress is driven by curiosity, constructive dialogue, connectivity, hard work, patience – and impatience. So, get out there and be impatient, and impactful, for the betterment of humanity
Dr Sultan Al Jaber

A total of 52 students graduated from MBZUAI — 20 with a master's in computer vision, a strand of AI that trains computers to understand the visual world — and 32 in machine learning, the popular field that trains computers to mimic human intelligence.

The university's first class, a third of whom are women, come from 24 different countries, with the UAE comprising the largest proportion, followed by India, Jordan, Kazakhstan and Morocco.

Dr Al Jaber, who is also the president-designate for Cop28, the climate conference set to be hosted in the UAE later this year, emphasised that "we are on the verge of a technological revolution".

"As you step out of the classroom, you're stepping into a very special year," he said. "We know the stakes could not be higher.

"I have no doubt that you, the first graduating class of MBZUAI, hold some of the keys to the transformational breakthroughs that we all need in the world today."

He said Cop28 would be the first to officially include a Youth Climate Champion, with the appointment Shamma Al Mazrui, Minister of State for Youth.

"We did this because we want to empower the voices, the passion, the positivity and the desire for progress that young people bring to the table," Dr Al Jaber said.

"These qualities, combined with your abilities, are a powerful combination, and I have no doubt that our collective future will be brighter as result.”

Valedictorian Shahd Al Shamsi, an Emirati with a background in industrial engineering, echoed Dr Al Jaber's message of urgency in her own speech to her class.

"We stand at the cusp of new innovations and entirely new ways of doing things. But it is up to us to drive what we want. We cannot wait," she said.

Most of the graduates plan to continue to call the UAE home, a signal that the country's economic diversification plans to develop in-country talent and intellectual property are bearing fruit.

One graduate is returning to a job at oil company Adnoc and another has accepted an offer from G42 Healthcare.

Many more are weighing up their own start-up ideas, areas of research, or continuing their studies by pursuing doctorates at the university.

A core tenet of the university is to closely link academic research to commercial applications. The graduates held internships at Dubai conglomerate Emaar Properies, Abu Dhabi AI firm G42 and logistics company DP World, among others.

With more than 100 graduate degree programmes in AI globally, development of the technology centres largely in North America, China and the UK.

MBZUAI has a prime opportunity to be a regional leader in the field of AI, as the only graduate-level university in the world singularly developing AI tools.

"This is the right topic at the right time," MBZUAI president Eric Xing told the graduates. He emphasised the historic significance of the inaugural class and said the ambition was for the university to serve the region for generations to come.

MBZUAI last year went from being unranked to making the top-25 AI research institutions, according to Computer Science Ranking.

"We want our name to be alongside MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Cambridge," Prof Xing has often said, a message he reiterated at the graduation.

In the audience was Bruno Le Maire, French Minister for Economy and Finance, who looked ahead to future collaboration in technology.

France and the Emirates will "find ways to leverage technology for the betterment of our countries".

"Artificial intelligence is a key technology on which France and the UAE will collaborate in the coming decade," Mr Le Maire said.

MBZUAI published more than 350 papers last year and the faculty body also grew significantly, with the addition of 21 new members, to stand at 49 with a student-to-faculty ratio of 7:1.

The school's motto is "power from knowledge to serve".

Updated: January 31, 2023, 3:48 AM