Interview: Peng Xiao

Where do you see opportunities for artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud computing to advance the economic development of Abu Dhabi and the UAE?

PENG XIAO: In these globally challenging times, becoming an independent, sovereign state in the digital domain is essential to facilitate economic development. G42 is focusing on AI, cloud computing, big data and other types of digital technologies to better support the UAE and promote economic growth.

For many years the UAE – and in particular Abu Dhabi – has been transitioning from an extractive economy to a knowledge-based one. The country’s current objective is to obtain more value from its digital assets by storing, managing and analysing data sets. This brings significant value to many different industries – the first and most obvious one being oil and gas. Data analytics helps decision-makers design and implement effective strategies, leading to opportunities for greater cost savings, and new revenue generation from areas such as reservoir simulation and downstream distribution. Other sectors that could benefit significantly from digital technologies include health care, education and agriculture.

Understanding data sets is essential for building a scalable, universally applicable AI platform. AI is therefore expanding from narrow use cases to becoming a general utility, and this presents a significant opportunity for the UAE to leverage.

How strong is the link between disruptive technology and economic growth in Abu Dhabi?

XIAO: The link between the two is already very strong, in part thanks to the efforts made by local governments – including that of Abu Dhabi – to boost the contribution of the private sector to the economy under the public-private partnership model.

More importantly, it is worth noting the opportunity ahead regarding disruptive technology and its implications for the economy. AI is not merely another IT tool; rather, it is a means by which machines have the possibility to self-learn. Correctly applied, it may provide the opportunity for any given industry to open new avenues of growth and new ways for companies to become more competitive in the international market.

This is already happening in Abu Dhabi and the UAE. For example, the government is looking at how industries such as health care and pharmaceuticals can become more personalised in the future through the Emirati Genome Programme and the use of AI. The opportunities for economic growth in the sector and in the country are expected to be significant.

What factors boost the UAE’s international competitiveness in terms of AI development?

XIAO: The UAE is doing relatively well for multiple reasons. First, there is an open lab culture. Everything is welcome to be tested in the UAE, which can be difficult to find in other places around the world.

Second, there is the understanding that failure is part of the journey, and that it is almost a necessity for effective innovation. This perspective enables the most advanced AI concepts to be tested in the UAE. Compared to other regions in the world where AI is being developed, the UAE is very agile.

Third, the UAE’s regulation on data and privacy protection is taken very seriously, as evidenced by the Personal Data Protection Law and the establishment of the UAE Data Office to regulate the former’s implementation. This being said, the UAE allows for the fusion of data from different industries. This is essential, as AI can only be successfully developed if there is a plentiful supply of data.

Lastly, the UAE is a major attraction for international talent thanks to a diversity of cultures, a safe and stable society, and high living standards. This is the reason why some of the best engineers around the world decided on Abu Dhabi and the UAE as the ideal destination to develop their professional careers.