I remember watching the 1997 battle of the chess “grandmasters”, one a person and the other a machine. The machine, IBM’s Deep Blue supercomputer, eventually defeated the human, world chess champion Gary Kasparov. And I wonder what the result would be today if an AI-run machine were to be pitted against the current world chess champion Magnus Carlsen.
The result probably would be the same but with one difference — the play would be far more exciting than it was more than two decades ago. Deep Blue didn’t use techniques that would be considered true AI by today’s standards. Instead it relied on “brute force” methods of calculating every possible option at high speed, rather than analysing gameplay and learning about the game.
Since 1997, AI has advanced a great deal, but so has our understanding of this extraordinary technology. Therefore, the more important question today is not whether AI could outsmart some of the most brilliant minds on earth, but how we can leverage AI as a powerful and tremendously efficient tool.
Governments and businesses around the world are determined to make the next decade a truly transformative time, with experts predicting that by 2030 AI could contribute $16 trillion to the global economy. However, the humankind, not AI, will be the real driver of such transformation.
The UAE’s founding father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, understood the real driver behind any substantial progress: “No matter how many buildings, foundations, schools and hospitals we build, or how many bridges we raise, all these are material entities. The real spirit behind the progress is the human spirit, the able man with his intellect and capabilities.”
I strongly believe that to fully unleash the potential of AI, we must first advance research of this technology and bring it to the forefront of academia. Indeed, the UAE created the post of Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence at the same time as it assigned Advanced Skills to the Minster of State for Higher Education. This was done because the UAE firmly believes that AI and these advanced skills go hand in hand. Advanced technologies, such as AI, are becoming all the more indispensable. It is, therefore, paramount for individuals to master these skills in this rapidly transforming world.
It is in this spirit that education leaders need to shape the future for our schools and universities. That’s why the UAE and Abu Dhabi recently announced the establishment of the world’s first graduate-level, research-based AI university — the Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI). Our goal is for the new university to equip and empower graduate students from around the world to lead us into the AI-driven era.
And I firmly believe MBZUAI provides another great opportunity for India and the UAE to work together and benefit both countries along the way.
India is already the UAE’s second-largest trade partner and the UAE has become India’s third-largest trading partner, with the total non-oil trade between the two countries recorded at $35.9 billion in 2018. The long and close relationship between the two countries, built on historical, deep-rooted and age-old cultural, religious and economic ties, can now extend to advanced AI-focused education, which can help contribute to India’s march towards the ambitious goal of becoming a $5-trillion economy.
MBZUAI will help build the necessary AI ecosystem that the world needs to leverage the full potential of this technology. To realise this, the university will offer post-graduate (MSc and PhD) programmes in the key areas of AI: Machine Learning, Computer Vision, and Natural Language Processing. All of these are critical to catalyse social progress around the world, and especially on our continent that is home to some of the fastest developing nations in the world.
India has historically produced a large number of engineers, mathematicians and software developers every year. By 2020, India will be the youngest country in the world, with a median age of 29 years.
Implementing a national AI strategy at the scale of a country like India will require an upskilling of this young talented workforce and student body. I hope that India and the UAE, with the world’s first Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence and the first dedicated graduate level research-based AI university, will work together as the two countries, and the world, enter a truly AI-empowered era.
This article first appeared in the October 17 print edition under the title ‘Intelligence of the future’. The writer is UAE minister of state and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence