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UAE adopts national approach to AI with focus on educating residents

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The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has made public its desire to incorporate artificial intelligence (AI) into key sectors of its economy, pushing for a nationwide initiative to educate residents.

In a report by The National News, UAE government officials are keen on equipping its workforce with advanced AI skills to enable them to compete amid huge technological upheavals. The country’s National AI Strategy 2031 blueprint unveiled plans for upskilling its citizens, seeking to deepen the existing talent pool for leading AI firms.

The blueprint revealed advanced plans by the government to set up specialized training research centers and international study tours for promising machine learning (ML) students. Alongside these plans, UAE’s government is keen on splurging funds to increase the number of STEM students in its universities, which it says has a direct link to increasing the depth of the nation’s AI talent pools.

In a targeted policy, the government hopes to convert one-third of all STEM graduates to explore careers in AI.

While plans for AI in the UAE are promising, previous attempts at educating the local population have yielded impressive results. Through the combination of free AI courses and a National Programme for Artificial Intelligence in partnership with the University of Oxford, nearly 52% of employees have begun upskilling for AI.

Already, over 20 universities have rolled out AI courses, including the Mohammed bin Zayed University, which offers scholarships for the most promising crop of students.

The government’s educational plans are not only targeted at public officials but encompass private sector employees. Over 70% of UAE’s CEOs confirm the existence of long-term AI strategies, but several factors stand in the way of the Gulf nation’s ambitious plans.

Top of the list is that AI models may take away the jobs of entry-level employees, but government officials have since downplayed the threat, stating that upskilling will usher in new roles while improving productivity.

There are lingering fears that the U.S. may block the sale of advanced AI chips to the UAE over human rights violation concerns as the emerging technologies arms race heats up in the Gulf.

Incorporating AI in schools

To achieve its objectives, the UAE has begun introducing AI to young students in elementary and high schools nationwide. While details are sparse, experts say education officials will follow the roadmap provided by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) regarding AI use in classrooms.

“Generative AI can be a tremendous opportunity for human development, but it can also cause harm and prejudice,” said UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay. “It cannot be integrated into education without public engagement and the necessary safeguards and regulations from governments.”

The UN agency is pushing for age restrictions and a prior validation of AI systems before their introduction in schools to mitigate the risks posed to young students.

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Watch: Middle East governments trying to find good use cases for blockchain—Ahmed Yousif

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