In an exclusive interview with Future Tech, Roberto D’Ambrosio, the Chief Executive Officer of Axiory Global, speaks about the development in the regional AI arena, using AI in combating COVID-19, transforming into an AI-equipped company post the COVID-19 crisis, and lots more

What sort of development have you seen in the AI arena in the region?
AI has been identified, from its early stages of development, as one of the main drivers of the innovation and diversification of the economies in the GCC region, with UAE and Saudi Arabia taking a leadership role in such vision. This awareness has been a decisive advantage that will place the GCC area at the forefront of the ongoing global transformation towards new technologies, thus creating a competitive advantage.

In UAE, such early awareness brought to an innovation process that is already underway, and projects such as Smart Dubai, Dubai Autonomous Transportation, and Dubai 3D printing is already up and running and the first applications already deployed. As an example, Dubai is already home to the world’s largest building constructed via 3D printing, a two stories building for the Dubai municipality. Construction and real estate are among the most important drivers for Dubai and UAE economy as a whole, so the impact of such a technology is evident.

Which countries in the region have stimulated AI investment much faster than other countries in the Middle East?
The economies in the GCC area are (still) largely dependent on the oil industry, which has gone through a series of shocks during the last decade, being the crisis induced by the COVID 19 Pandemic only the last one to severely impact on the sustainability of the economies of the area in the medium to long run. Even if some economies of the areas, such as the UAE or Saudi Arabia, can count on large sovereign reserves, the issue was very well felt and the awareness of the need to reduce the dependency from the fossil fuel production and therefore to diversify the economy has brought to in-depth research about global trends and new arising technologies to find the sweet spot for the strategy for the decades to come.

It became obvious that the way to employ the resources created so far, given also the economic structure and the attractiveness potential of the area for foreign investment and human talent, was not to subsidize the existing structure but to create a strategy that would gradually but relentlessly transform the economy while holding on the existing strong points and cultural heritage. The early detection of the possibilities generated by AI and other new technologies and related prompt reaction by the economies of the area, with UAE and Saudi Arabia playing a leading role, is really commendable and show the quality of the leadership these countries are fortunate to enjoy.

What sort of AI factor have you seen or recommend in combating COVID 19?
AI coupled with big data analysis can be decisive in fighting the pandemic spread and reducing the probabilities of a large second wave of the pandemic. Contact tracing technologies employing AI have allowed both collecting more relevant data and tracing the contagion, by allowing targeted confinement measures via the detection of potentially harmful contact with affected individuals.

Also, applying AI to analyse what has or is happening in economies with similar patterns, as an example when it comes to immigration given the magnitude of the related risk, greatly enhances the accuracy in building possible scenarios, given the larger relevant data sets on which AI technologies can work on and deploy its incredible computing and analysing power.

How can companies transform into an AI company post-crisis?
Companies need to have a clear understanding of the AI technologies in order to have a vision that integrates and builds on such technologies. Those firms that haven’t done so are already at a disadvantage and should take urgent measures to catch up with their competitors that took action at an early stage.

The crisis itself has shown how fragile many of the economic funnels are when they have to face a disruptive crisis like the one induced by the COVID 19 pandemic and related global economic and social lockdown, and the adoption of AI might make the difference between life and death of the firms operating is such funnels.

I think that waiting for a post-crisis scenario to adapt is definitely not the right approach. This crisis, no matter if it will unfold towards the most optimistic or pessimistic outcome, has changed the world and the economy forever, and companies need to take action now. There is nothing to wait for. Companies need to thoroughly analyse their business model, their risk and finance modelling and their supply chain to understand, not if, but how to deploy AI technologies.

How can companies contain or discard legacy processes?
By careful planning their digital and AI transformation. The transition from legacy processes to innovative processes taking advantage of AI and other advanced technologies cannot be done overnight and will come at a cost.

Legacy processes that involve high labour headcounts will have to go through the most disruptive transformation and thus careful planning is key to success. Just look at the example given above on the 3D printing applied to construction: a handful of employees were able to deploy structures that would have required workers in the number of hundreds.

Dependencies with other economic sectors must be considered and managed appropriately in collaboration with the local governments. Again, picking on the same example: how will a relevant reduction in labour demand affect the immigration patterns and the related impact on the retail business?

Do companies understand the benefits of cloud-based AI?
I believe firms are very well aware of the benefits of Cloud-Based AI. The efficiency, power, scalability, and safety of cloud-based AI applications are simply too relevant to ignore, and not having such awareness will simply result in Firms become obsolete and inevitably go out of business.

The debate around AI has been going on for quite some time and Firms have been following such debate closely, having the time and the chance to understand the importance to jump on the trend early and avoid false claims and offers that nothing have to do with AI, but just using such label to rebrand legacy processes.

Is there a way to reinvent processes that previously required physical documents, to become paperless?
Paperless storage and shared document collaboration are a reality already for a few years, pushed by the need for fast document formation, sharing, and storage for future reference and increased environmental awareness that pushed towards a wiser use of physical documents’ supports. In this scenario, blockchain can further enhance such paperless process, by allowing to certify the form and the content of the document without a third party acting as a certificatory authority as the certification comes from the process in itself.

AI, with is computation and data analysis capabilities and power, can then build on the document database and knowledge base of each firm (or group of them that will see value in doing so) to allow very fast and extremely relevant new documents formation.

How do you think can companies operate in an agile manner to enable nimble, data-driven teams?
Again, planning is key. The transition from legacy management to data-driven teams is a process that needs to be managed carefully, in order to take advantage of the new technologies while preserving all the wealth of knowledge and value built with the existing processes. Such value is the “heart and soul” of companies, which make them unique, which allowed them to build a market to operate and thrive in.

The process needs to be fast, but rushing into it without making sure to retain all the created value might result in a huge setback instead of a competitive advantage. Also, the transition from one operational set up to anther implies migration and manipulation of critical data, so the security factor is vital for business continuity purposes.

Can companies apply AI to discover emerging trends and identify changes in consumer preferences?
This is actually one of the main advantages created by AI: provided that the existing data set is large enough and it is continuously updated by relevant data, maintaining nonrelevant information to a minimum, AI technologies can spot trends with great accuracy and at a very early stage.

“Traditional” big data analysis could already do something similar in identifying existing trends and somehow spotting changes, but AI, being able to autonomously adapt to changes, brings the game to a completely different level. AI technologies allow feeding the data set with more relevant data and therefore spot changes in existing trends with unprecedented speed and accuracy as well as spotting new trends at their very inception. The advantages are obvious and, as mentioned, adopting such technologies is no longer an option: it is mandatory for firms that want to effectively compete in the global marketplace.

Any other info you would like to add?
I just would like to draw the readers’ attention on the impact that such new technologies can have on the socio-economic structure of economies and on the related consequences. AI will revolutionize the way the economy works for good, but automating a large part of the processes which nowadays require a large number of the human workforce can create severe imbalances that need to be considered at the very early stage of the digital transformation, with governments and firms working together towards the same goal: transitioning to this new era keeping the system sustainable in the long run.

Much easier said than done, as dependencies in the economic framework are many and complex, but this must be one of the main factors we need to analyse and govern, so to make this transition to the digital era viable and ultimately virtuous for everyone. This is a radical transformation and will be a milestone for humanity. Let’s govern it wisely, building a bright future on what we have been able to create in the past.

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