Interview: Aisha bin Bishr
What are the main objectives behind the transformation of Dubai into a smart city?
AISHA BIN BISHR: One of the goals of the smart city project is to attract investors, especially to the ICT sector and emerging technologies, such as blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI). But we want to do more than just encourage companies to bring new technologies to the market; we want to provide a platform where they can utilise tools to create solutions for the challenges of governance. Already, investors are increasingly seeing Dubai as a place where the most nascent ideas, such as hyperloop, can be developed and implemented at a speed that is difficult in the rest of the world. As a government, we need to provide as much support for them as possible, from land grants and direct investments to ensuring that the laws and regulations are conducive to such investments.
How can blockchain and other emerging technologies enhance the delivery and effectiveness of government services?
BIN BISHR: Technology is already helping the government deliver more effective services. The Department of Economic Development, for instance, has an AI function called Saad on its website, which allows someone interested in starting a business to ask all types of questions about the process and receive personalised, real-time information in a matter of minutes. Using the system, one can easily find out what types of legal documents are required and how partnerships with foreigners should be structured. By aggregating data across all government entities, sorting it, analysing it and constantly adding to it, our goal is to expand the AI programme and develop a virtual advisor for every individual, business and potential investor in the city that needs assistance in any aspect of living and working here. If someone is interested in moving to Dubai, for example, they would be able to easily find information about the best locations to buy a house, how to apply for a driving licence, where to send their children to school and even what to do on the weekend. Not only that, but we are also developing processes that allow individuals to complete government transactions online.
Blockchain has the potential to greatly reduce the amount of time it takes the government to provide services. Right now the bank settlement reconciliation process between government entities and their clients can take almost 45 days.
With blockchain, however, payments are processed instantaneously using a secure ledger that can be easily tracked by the relevant parties. By making the system more efficient, we are better able to meet the needs of the people living here in a timely and effective manner. So far, we have 13 test cases for blockchain and are planning to transfer 100% of applicable services to blockchain by 2020. The applications are endless, from Dubai Electricity and Water Authority bills to land registration with the Dubai Land Department.
To what extent has the Dubai Data initiative increased the sharing of data among public entities?
BIN BISHR: Before the initiative, the different agencies had no idea just how useful the data they were sitting on was. As we have worked to implement the new data sharing law, many have begun to realise the importance of the information they possess and are thinking of ways in which it can be deployed to improve services.
Our goal is to open – that is, collect and classify – 400 data sets over the next two years, starting with 50 sets each quarter. An example of a data set would be something like the number of traffic accidents each year in Dubai or the number and occupancy of hospital beds. Once these are developed, we can create new systems that take the data into account and focus it on the best possible uses for the people living here. We are also working to implement a data law aimed at private sector entities so that their data can also be collected and put to use in a regulated and safe way.
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