What will Abu Dhabi's artificial intelligence students study?

MBZUAI is offering master of science and PhD degrees in three of the fastest-growing areas of AI

Abu Dhabi will open the first university in the world dedicated to artificial intelligence research, the Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI), as the enormous potential for AI to address global challenges and spur economic growth becomes clear.

"Over the next few decades, humanity has some huge problems to contend with: climate change, sustainability, eliminating poverty. We can either be discouraged or we can look to the potential of the pervasiveness of technology to solve problems small and large," said Professor Daniela Rus, a member of MBZUAI's founding board of trustees and director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), at the launch event for the university on Wednesday.

To help address these pressing challenges, MBZUAI is offering Master of Science and PhD degrees in three of the fastest-growing areas of AI: machine learning, computer vision and natural language processing.

Professor Rus implored prospective students to ask, "not what tech can do for them, but what they can do for technology".

The National digs into what students at MBZUAI will be researching - that is, what they will be doing for technology - and why each specialty matters.

Machine Learning 

Machine learning is the study of algorithms and statistical models that use computers to accomplish a task without explicit instructions from humans, instead relying on patterns and inference based on data.

This field of AI has attracted as much as $7 billion (Dh25.7bn) in venture capital as of 2016, according to US consultancy McKinsey, making it one of the biggest categories of AI research.

Machine learning can be used to determine the most efficient routes which can cut down on congestion and reduce carbon emissions; help diagnose disease to speed up treatment-related decisions; analyse environmental trends and renewable energy resources; and detect patterns in images to improve security or make scientific breakthroughs.

Machine learning is already part of everyday life, from credit card fraud protection to Netflix recommendations of what to watch next.

IBM has deployed machine learning to help wind and solar companies predict conditions up to a month in advance, using its technology dubbed 'Watt-sun' which can help renewable power plants be powered up and ready to capture the energy of a sunny or windy day.

Computer Vision

This field of AI studies how computers can be used to interpret visual imagery and physical surroundings.

The market for computer vision is forecast to be worth $17.4bn by 2023, up $5.5bn from 2018, as demand for robotics systems that can 'see' and navigate grows, according to research firm MarketsandMarkets.

This technology is being used and further developed for automating tasks in space, inspecting underwater structures like offshore drilling platforms and in drones to inspect forestation and agriculture.

Computer vision has applications for the UAE's large industrial and manufacturing sectors, particularly in oil, gas and petrochemicals, which can improve productivity and efficiency through automated monitoring systems supported by this technology.

Natural language processing

Star Trek's universal translator - that nifty device capable of instantly translating any language, allowing conversation between anyone - could one day soon become a reality. In fact, the Minister for Artificial intelligence, Omar Al Olama, spoke enthusiastically about advances in instant translation from the Aqdar World Summit in Moscow last month.

Within a short time, it will be possible to communicate instantly and accurately in any language in the world, despite not knowing a single word, he predicted.

This will have immediate benefit in the UAE, home to some 200 nationalities and about two dozen different languages.

This field of AI, known as natural language processing, is working to develop computers able to extract meaning and intent from spoken and written text in a readable and grammatically correct form. NLP powers the likes of virtual assistants Alexa, Siri and Google Translate, and the technology is being used to gain insights from enormous sets of data, too.

Fourteen per cent of companies globally are using NLP in some capacity, according to a survey by Deloitte.

For government agencies working in defense, public safety, transportation or health care, they can come up against some of the same challenges as a non-native speaker in a strange land. Large agencies can struggle to make sense of huge volumes of unstructured text or data to make "informed decisions, improve services and save lives", according to Deloitte. Natural language processing can be used to help investigate crime or provide insights for policy analysis by "connecting the dots" within massive amounts of data.