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Future Tech speaks to industry experts about how AI has evolved in this region, the AI factor in combating pandemics, transformation of companies post-crisis, and more

You could say that artificial intelligence, robots and smart devices were all offspring of some of the wildest imaginations of visionaries. Through art, movies and literature, we have been able to conceive such ideas and work our ways up towards making them a reality. But no matter how harder we try to live our futuristic dreams right now, artificial intelligence and other allied technologies are still in their infant stages. We have achieved face recognition, speech detection and stages of autonomous cars at consumer levels and it will be years from now until we have robots serving us mac and cheese.

With that said, groundbreaking technologies and researches are being made every single day and if you are a follower of influencers and industry experts, you would see how artificial intelligence is working at grassroot levels to solve some of the simplest of concerns besides the most complicated ones. Artificial intelligence is indeed laying the foundation for what will be standards tomorrow and to get ready for the future, you need to start becoming open from today.

REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT
The GCC region has been evolving rapidly and has observed a drastic modification with AI technologies, especially in countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia. According to PwC Middle East, GCC economies are already moving towards AI and adopting advanced technologies, with increased AI adoption being estimated at approximately $277 Billion by 2030. “The biggest opportunity for AI in the GCC has been in the construction and manufacturing sector, where estimated adoption has been 31.0%, followed by 24.5% in the energy, utilities and mining sector, and 18.5% in the public sector, including education and healthcare; of all AI investment in the region predicted for 2030,” explains Anas A. Abdul-Haiy, Director and Deputy CEO of Proven Consult. “Overall, the potential gains at the industry level are likely to depend on the ability of businesses to automate processes, and on the potential impact of further innovation due to AI.

Anas A Abdul-Haiy, Director and Deputy CEO of Proven Consult

“Digital innovation is accelerating across all industries across the region in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses, especially healthcare institutions and governments are taking advantage of AI technology to deliver better patient care,” says Fadi Kanafani, General Manager and Managing Director Middle East for NetApp. “Governments are using AI to detect and monitor COVID-19 cases at public places and airports to control the spread of the virus. Many healthcare institutes have used AI or specially designed digital platforms to deal with the pandemic by screening people who might be infected, identifying high-risk patients, screening frontline healthcare workers and distinguishing COVID-19 from other respiratory illnesses using X-rays or CT scans.

Kanafani further adds that the UAE were leaders in this domain; they made better use of technology, including AI, drones and robots, to support its efforts to contain the virus. “Early detection and constant monitoring were key to controlling and slowing down the progression of the disease. The fact that the UAE is first country to appoint a minister of state for AI, as well as establish the world’s first dedicated AI university is proof that the country plans on leveraging the power of AI across key sectors in the coming years. AI is already being put to use in key public sector services,” he adds.

According to Lee Miles, the VP for CEMEA at Red Hat, AI can fundamentally reimagine Middle East markets through the creation of innovative new services and futuristic business models. We have seen increased development on multiple fronts in the AI arena across the region in recent times, in terms of spending and adoption. “In the Middle East and Africa, AI spending grew by almost 43 percent last year alone due to higher investments in AI-enabled projects and platforms. And through 2022, spending is expected to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 19 percent. Compelling use cases in AI applications are visible in areas including manufacturing, finance, retail, telecommunications, and the public sector – and AI has the potential to make significant contributions to these sectors over the next decade,” he adds.

Fadi Kanafani, General Manager and Managing Director – Middle East, NetApp

Tabrez Surve, the Regional Sales Director of F5, says that one of the most notable developments is the focus from governments, especially in the UAE where support has been immense. The UAE created a Ministry of Artificial Intelligence which is focused on AI and how it can help drive excellence in industry, government and public services. “This will give a lot of impetus for AI. The Middle East is expected to accrue 2% of the total global benefits of AI in 2030, equivalent to $320 billion, according to a recent report from PwC. We’re going to see a growing willingness across different industries – from oil & gas to financial services, healthcare and government – to adapt AI in various formats. All sectors stand to gain from AI and we see growing awareness of the need to adopt it here in the Middle East,” he says.

Miles further adds that from a government perspective, they can obtain and analyse vast amounts of citizen data, and it is their responsibility to meet the requirements of millions of people and deliver essential public services. “The need to provide services efficiently and at scale, together with the ability to leverage vast amounts of data, means AI is an ideal avenue to sustainability. Cities including Riyadh, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi are well-positioned to capitalize in the coming years due to their respective government-led AI initiatives. More will likely be launched as the current programs serve as an inspirational example for the rest of the region,” he says.

Avinash Gujje, Practice Head – Infrastructure, Cloud Box Technologies, if of the opinion that the GCC is one of the regions that are availing of and implementing AI to accelerate developments that the authorities have for their long-term country vision. “The UAE leads the path in adopting new and advanced technologies, and AI is at the forefront of all major sectors. This includes the RTA, utility, health, education, finance, etc. In fact, it is the only country in the world as of now to have an AI ministry. AI is being successfully used for drone surveillance, as well as transport and cargo movement which are the prime focus. The airline industry is working on developing an AI powered assistant that will support customers from pre to post flight services. It is evident that the technology is moving into most areas of day to day life,” he explains.

AI DURING COVID-19
Today, AI technologies play a key role in all aspects of the COVID-19 crisis response. AI can be utilized to understand the virus and can be used to accelerate medical research on drugs and treatments, detection and diagnosing of the virus. “AI can also assist in preventing or slowing the virusspread through surveillance and contact tracing, responding to the health crisis through personalized information and insights gathered, in turn aiding in monitoring the recovery process and improving early warning tools,” says Abdul-Haiy.

Tabrez Surve, the Regional Sales Director of F5

“Researchers and healthcare institutions are turning to AI to fight the virus. We firmly believe that technology and innovation can help navigate and overcome global challenges such as the current COVID pandemic. The fight against this strain of virus still is very much ongoing, but we are proud that many technology companies are contributing, whether it is with analytics, research, or business continuity,” explains Kanafani.

AI technologies are widely used in many countries to combat COVID 19. Currently, the most common usage is the wireless thermometer guns which are AI powered. “It can also help in monitoring the movement and tracking of patients. Automated thermal monitoring along with facial recognition is enabling a faster and more effective process. With the help of AI based data analytics, predictive modelling helps professionals to garner deeper insights into the disease. And, AI based risk assessment tools can help identify symptoms and develop relevant drugs,” explains Gujje. “Identifying an affected patient and isolating them to the nearest location with the help of self-driven cars and robots is recommended in the future. As well as the use of drones to deliver medication and food to isolated patients.

Surve is of the opinion that COVID-19 has driven a reliance on digital technology for most organisations. “AI can help organisations transition to digital more easily and effectively. It adds a level of intelligence that can help them operate and tap opportunities more effectively. This will be vital as organisations move into the post-COVID-19 phase,” he says.

According to Miles, through advanced planning algorithms, OptaPlanner is among the most prominent AI factors that have helped keep medical staff and patients safe while combating COVID-19. “Some of the most common challenges in the healthcare sector include assigning doctors and nurses to hospital shifts, establishing a fair schedule, and maximizing leave day request approvals. During the ongoing situation, these issues have been solved easily due to this innovative AI factor. Advanced planning algorithms are superior to human planning in far less time, and valuable time saved has subsequently been utilised by medical professionals in a variety of vital areas,” he says.

Avinash Gujje, Practice Head – Infrastructure, Cloud Box Technologies

TRANSFORMATION POST CRISIS
The pandemic has opened avenues to rethink the opportunities that are being utilised to handle the situation. The world is seeing a major shift towards digital transformation. “Digital skills are being improved and there will be ongoing reskilling trends that are required to develop the workforce to face and manage the unexpected. Remote work spaces powered by AI will be the norm. And, it is clear that automation will drive all major sectors mainly travel, transport, IT as well as retail and ecommerce,” says Gujje.

Miles says that companies can make the transition to becoming fully AI-enabled following the crisis through Open source software. “Although predictive analytics and AI capabilities can offer valuable insights and actionable intelligence, organizations operating in the public sector requires more to achieve their ambitions concerning AI – they need ‘explainable AI.’ With Open source software, companies can develop more transparent AI solutions through technology and development methodology that are much faster – resulting in greater efficiencies and more accurate, trusted decisions,” he says.

Abdul-Haiy meanwhile adds that most companies already have an extensive experience with digital applications such as automation and basic data analytics. But AI, which enables machines to solve problems and take actions that in the past could only be done by humans, goes far beyond that.

“Financial services offer another good example, where we see AI being used a lot more in fraud and risk management. As businesses and individuals increasingly make digital transactions, the volume of transactional data also increases, and this presents an ideal opportunity for AI algorithms to learn to spot patterns that indicate fraud. Human experts can then assess the AI’s findings, saving a significant amount of time and resources. AI cyber security solutions can analyse traffic in real-time to spot unusual behaviours and anomalies previously out of sight while automatically flagging problems as they occur,” adds Surve.

Adoption of AI varies by industry, with different industries, from education to healthcare and manufacturing, each using AI in a different manner. But one thing they all have in common is that AI is helping them to automate processes, especially labour-intensive and time-consuming processes, such as analysing data about footfall in retail or checking product quality in manufacturing.

“AI tools analyze immense volumes of data to learn underlying patterns, enabling computer systems to make complex decisions, predict human behaviour, and recognise images and human speech, among many other things. AI-enabled systems also continuously learn and adapt. These capabilities will be enormously valuable as companies confront and adapt to the new reality of the current crisis and its aftermath,” says Abdul-Haiy. “This new reality will significantly impact companies’ costs, revenue, and operating models. AI can play a significant role in enabling companies to thrive and seize a competitive advantage in this new environment.

Lee Miles, the VP for CEMEA at Red Hat

According to Kanafani, the first step towards transforming into an AI company is to become a “Data Driven” organization. “Becoming data driven starts with a clear digital transformation strategy. A company ought to be ready for a total mindset change away from archaic legacy processes into how business outcomes may be achieved faster, for less cost in an effective manner. As an example, when Tesla decided to build the future automobile; the engineers did not take an old concept and built on the same but rather innovated towards what the future automobile should look and perform like,” he explains.

OPERATING IN AN AGILE MANNER
The need of the hour for companies is to operate in an agile manner to enable nimble, data-driven teams. Many of the world’s biggest companies struggle to be nimble, efficient, and data-driven, which makes them less productive than they should be. It’s not just their size that holds them back; much of the problem is created by traditional business models that have been created for scale and standardization, rather than for agility and innovation.

According to Kanafani, for achieving this, it all starts at the top. “Every company has to have a data strategy to enable a data driven mindset. As simple as this may sound, many CIOs; although had their own plans to move in that direction, progress was very slow. COVID19 global pandemic has led to the acceleration of digital transformation initiatives and in some way forced that agenda on the top leaders of the organizations that were lagging behind either to survive the current market challenges,” says Kanafani.

The concept of agile frame work comes into play when there are huge amounts of work to be completed within short time frames. Business stake holders and product and development teams prioritize the work flows and develop a system to be able to operate within an agile framework. “The key lies in the actual data and data readiness. The use of different analytical tools to collect and share the data is prime. Organizations must identify the bottle necks and ways to improve this process is very crucial. But what they must also take note of is that while the agile frame work has been described as simple, it comes with its own set of challenges which must be met and tackled,” says Gujje.

“According to Boston Consulting Group (BCG), large-scale agile transformation isn’t just about technology. It’s about a new way of thinking. It’s more collaborative, more open, more creative, and much more efficient than other business models. And it’s something that can be implemented across a company, not just in a few departments,” explains Abdul-Haiy.

He further adds that companies can achieve agile transformation at three levels: the project level, which is relatively easy to accomplish; the portfolio level, which is more complex; and the organization level, which requires a complete rethinking of a company’s operating model. “Moving effectively from the first level to the last can be difficult for a large organization, but companies that move in progressive steps can succeed,” Abdul-Haiy says.

Surve says that once a company starts leveraging AI, they will be able to make decisions faster and in a more agile more manner, because AI is able to tackle the kind of labour intensive and time-consuming tasks that often holds teams back. “Education and training around AI will be very important in terms of helping companies to maximise the benefits of AI, with considerations such as which processes to apply AI to, and how to use the learnings and insights from AI to an organisation’s best advantage,” explains Surve.

Kanafani meanwhile explains that data science and artificial intelligence are now official curriculums in the region offered by reputed universities to skill up the human capital so to enable data driven teams. “On the technology side, NetApp may help organization deliver the AI and data management platforms with its echo system partners to complete the circle. Both combined, trained human capital and technology will provide the sought business outcomes,” he says.

Visionaries today are working on enriching our everyday lives. Home delivery of food, apparel, and consumer goods, cab services, entertainment options are all some of the basic conveniences we have made them necessities. But technology feels there is still human intervention involved. So, it is working on making life simpler to another level by introducing delivery drones, chatbots, advanced systems and more to further add convenience in our lives.

Today, data scientists, machine and deep learning experts are increasingly in demand. Companies are now depending on them for their organizational requirements. Considering this, the ability to code and work on a programming language would become inevitable and all our career choices will have an intertwined aspect of computer and tech skills. Though we are far from the days machines would dominate the earth, we are still making tremendous progress in making them smart and human-like (Sophia). Maybe we humans are just here to give rise to a new species of entities that would go about solving the mysteries of nature and universe. 

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