Automated passport renewal is next step in smart government, Abu Dhabi official says

With smart government services, citizens should not have to interact with government unless absolutely necessary

Omar bin Sultan Al Olama, Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence.
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Abu Dhabi is pursuing an automation strategy that would replace a citizen’s passport before it expires without an application.

Consideration of the programme comes as the government aims to reduce the wait times and paperwork of civic life.

"Ideally, citizens should not interact with government" unless absolutely necessary, Saeed Al Mulla, executive director at Abu Dhabi Digital Authority, told The National on the sidelines of the Digital Next conference in the capital, adding that proactive governance is where most countries are headed.

He illustrated the ambitions of the Abu Dhabi Digital Authority with an example.

“You have a passport. You need to renew it at least six months before it expires. But my question is, 'Why are you going and saying to the government that you need to renew? Doesn’t the government have that kind of data?'”

The UAE has become today Singapore on steroids. We have immense access to data thanks to smart government

Mr Al Mulla described a scenario where the government automatically triggers the delivery of a new passport and instructions to destroy the old one.

He sees this sort of automation touching various parts of life, from welcoming a new baby, who needs a passport, identification and a birth certificate, to making business activity more seamless.

“This is what I mean about proactive government.”

Government services like getting a marriage licence or registering a new business are often associated with inefficiency, red tape and a confusing maze of paperwork and various offices.

But advancements in technology are changing that. Since 2018, Abu Dhabi has been working to bring all resident-facing government services under one platform, called Tamm.

Mr Al Mulla said with increasing digital services, the vast amounts of data Tamm has and the use of artificial intelligence (AI), this vision for a more proactive government can happen within the next decade.

Omar Al Olama, the UAE’s Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, echoed that optimism in public remarks at the conference.

“No other country can compare” to the diverse data set the UAE has because it is home to some 200 nationalities, Mr Al Olama said.

He said global trade and logistics firm DP World, as well as airlines Emirates and Etihad, which are all government-owned, represent some of the world’s biggest data sets on trade and aviation activity.

But such data sets do not only reflect the UAE, as the companies have operations all over the world. DP World has a presence in more than 40 countries and the airlines have 166 destinations.

Data variety is a critical component to AI, which also relies on volume and speed to work well. Data points that reflect the broadest possible range of traits means that an AI system can work for everyone and not a select few who share the most common traits.

AI Now, a research group at New York University, released a study this year calling the lack of diversity in AI “a crisis”, with the data being used to train AI creating “huge shortcomings” in the technology.

Homogenous data duplicates “racial and gender bias in ways that can deepen and justify historical inequality. The commercial deployment of these tools is cause for deep concern”, according to the researchers.

The UAE's varied data gives it a competitive edge.

Peng Xiao, chief executive of Abu Dhabi AI firm G42, called the diversity of data in the UAE “a unique privilege that not many countries can offer.

“The UAE has become today Singapore on steroids. We have immense access to data thanks to smart government.”

Last week, the smart government project Tamm reached its newest milestone by bringing every economic licence issued by the Department of Economic Development on to the site.

UAE residents can launch a business from the platform, find out how to hire employees, connect utilities at their place of work and apply for relevant permits based on a short survey.

Tamm will be fully operational, with all resident services for all 40 government entities in Abu Dhabi on the platform, by 2021, Mr Al Mulla said.