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Sat 21 Apr 2018 03:49 PM

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Opinion: what will the fourth industrial revolution change?

The answer is pretty much everything, argues Jeremy Lawrence

Opinion: what will the fourth industrial revolution change?
Factory of the future Mindsphere connects real things to the digital world

As a partner to Expo 2020, Siemens is blazing a trail that event organisers hope others will follow. In 2021, the German industrial giant will repurpose the Expo site into its global airport logistics headquarters. And before that happens, $500m will be spent over the next three years to build two Internet of Things (IoT) application centres in the UAE.

To ensure that this enables practical transformation, software grants will help researchers build their capabilities to run Siemens’ all-encompassing Mindsphere platform, which CEO Joe Kaeser described at the World Government Summit in February as the “software for the Expo.”

This sort of investment is exactly what the UAE government wants as it attempts to reengineer its economy for a new age.

The adoption last year of a UAE Strategy for Artificial Intelligence and appointment of an AI minister, Omar Bin Sultan Al Olama, was not some gesture. These are all steps toward fulfilling the Centennial Plan, which aims to make the UAE the world’s leading nation by 2071. And it can’t do that without being ahead of the curve in new technologies, especially artificial intelligence.

As a reminder of its importance, a recent PwC report estimated that AI’s contribution to the Middle East economy will total $320bn by 2030, and $15.7tr globally. The largest gains are expected in Saudi Arabia, where it is expected to contribute more than $135.2bn – or 12.4 percent of GDP. In relative terms, the UAE is expected to see the largest impact of 13 percent of GDP, just behind the predicted 14 percent in the US and ahead of Europe’s 10 percent.

Practical applications

This isn’t just about moon-shot predictions. In a single day alone last week, a Google search for “AI Dubai” yielded three news stories: Dubai Land Department announcing the use of AI to verify lease contracts; the RTA using AI scanners to monitor paid parking spaces; and Dubai Economic Department joining Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s 10X initiative (which aims to place Dubai ten years ahead of other leading cities) by incubating companies that offer AI solutions.

Jobs for robots

As if we didn’t need reminding about the flipside to all this, a report earlier this month by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said 66 million people in developed countries are at risk of being replaced by AI in the near future. It notes that in America alone 13 million jobs will be lost.

The issue is so pressing that Finland has already piloted a universal basic income scheme; Ontario in Canada is trialling something similar; Scotland has plans to do the same, and a US tech incubator will give 3,000 individuals a monthly cheque, just to see what happens.

But let’s be a little more optimistic than thinking handouts are the only way to prevent jobless revolutions, and assume that humans will find new things to do. The problem in this case is how we prepare for this new reality, given the findings of a Dell Technologies report last year, which estimated that 85 percent of jobs in 2030 have yet to be invented.

The only answer, as our cover story notes, is to “train, train and retrain”. In the process we must all constantly ask: what can we do that machine-learned technology cannot?

That’s why the UAE’s minister of state for AI is a necessity not a luxury. As Kaeser said in Dubai: “Instead of fearing technology, business leaders need to show society how not to. Employees need to be retrained for the future. The split of society is what we need to understand, especially those within that could be affected in a negative way. If they are given the opportunity to benefit as well from the revolution, then it will all be okay.”

So we must be positive in how we solve this riddle. Just over 200 years ago English workers, the Luddites, were destroying the new machinery that was stealing their jobs. They were right to be frightened as their way of life was transformed, and not for the better. We, however, are on the cusp of a historic opportunity, but only if we plan ahead for a future that is only just around the corner.

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