August 2020 — Carrington Malin

Blogs, writing, published articles, media interviews and other news
August 21, 2020
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A great roundup about artificial intelligence in the Middle East by Damian Radcliffe, Carolyn S Chambers Professor in Journalism at the University of Oregon, which quotes me commenting on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. With IT spending in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) forecast by IDC to reach $83 billion this year, AI is going to become an increasing focus.

IDC also predicts that investment in AI systems across MEA will hit $374.2 million this year, up from $261.8 million in 2018 and a projected expenditure of $310.3 million in 2019. However, with many AI technologies in high demand since the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic, one has to wonder how this will affect IDC’s forecasts – not just in the MEA region, but globally too.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE had both begun investing in new AI technologies for government use, planning how to encourage AI-powered innovations and looking at regulatory requirements for their Fourth Industrial Revolution future. However, the advent of coronavirus has certainly fueled both interest and investment in artificial intelligence, with public and private sectors investing in automation, data analysis, robotics, health and safety systems, plus technologies to enhance contactless delivery of consumer services.

Despite forcing the cancellation of many high tech events around the region, the pandemic has also, arguably, fast tracked government plans and policies to harness AI and create a business environment conducive to driving successful digital economies. The UAE is reported to have improved plans for leveraging AI consistent with its national AI strategy, while Dubai announced a new comprehensive drone law in July. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia approved its own national artificial intelligence strategy in August – and muted that it would soon introduce a comprehensive law to govern commercial and recreational drone use in the Kingdom.

For more on artificial intelligence in the Middle East read Damian’s full article here.


August 16, 2020
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The Indonesia National AI Strategy, now known as Stranas KA (Strategi Nasional Kecerdasan Artifisial), has been published. The new strategy was announced by the Minister of Research and Technology and head of the BRIN (the National Research and Innovation Agency) Bambang PS Brodjonegoro in an television address made last Monday to mark the country’s 25th National Technology Awakening Day. The minister also launched an electronic innovation catalogue, helping Indonesian technology developers to market their offerings and sell to government procurement offices.

Transforming Indonesia into a Fourth Industrial Revolution economy has become focus for the government over the past few years and the necessity of creating a digital-savvy workforce has become a top priority. Stranas KA aims to tie together many of the country’s digital initiatives and maps closely to Visi Indonesia 2045, the country’s broad economic, social, governance and technology development strategy. The National Artificial Intelligence Strategy Framework provides an at-a-glance view of how these different goals are held in context.

Stranas KA aims to support five national priorities, where the government believes that artificial intelligence could have the biggest impact on national progress and outcomes.

Health services – With 268 million people living across 6,000 of Indonesia’s total 17,504 islands, delivering a consistent standard of healthcare is a national challenge. The archipelago also faces increased risks from global disease outbreaks such as SARS and, recently, Covid-19. The country’s response to the pandemic has already somewhat accelerated plans for smart hospitals and health security infrastructure.

Bureaucractic reform – With a civilian civil service of about 4 million, reforming the government’s highly centralised administration remains a significant challenge. Indonesia is lagged in implementation of digital services, according to the United Nations E-Government Development Index (EGDI), ranking below Borneo, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. President Joko Widodo has promised to create a citizen-centric digitised service government (Pemerintahan Digital Melayani) in the next five years.

Education and research – Education is integral to Visi Indonesia 2045 and the move towards online schooling during the Covid-19 pandemic has laid bare the country’s digital divide. The pressures of the digital economy are also recognised by development plans. According to the government, Indonesia needs a digital workforce of 113 million by 2030-2035.

Food security – According to President Widodo, food security remains Indonesia’s top priority and the Food Security Agency focuses on three main areas: food availability, food accessibility and food utilisation. Food, agriculture and fisheries government departments and agencies have already begun using satellite technology, machine learning and smart farming to better plan, forecast and manage agricultural production and natural resources.

Mobility and smart cities – The number of people living in Indonesia’s urban areas is now close to 60 percent and is expected to rise to 70 percent of the total population by the year 2050. The government currently plans to develop 98 smart cities and 416 smart districts, under Indonesia’s 100 Smart Cities Plan.

Indonesia National AI Strategy, August 2020

Meanwhile, the Indonesia national AI strategy identifies four key focus areas:

    1. Ethics and Policy
    2. Talent Development
    3. Infrastructure and Data
    4. Industrial Research and Innovation

Indonesia is already one of South East Asia’s biggest investors in artificial intelligence, with IDC’s 2018 Asia-Pacific Enterprise Cognitive/AI survey finding that 25 percent of large organisations in the country have adopted AI systems (compared with 17% in Thailand, 10% in Singapore and 8% in Malaysia).

Smart cities, one of Stranas KA’s five top priority areas, have been identified as a fundamental building block for Indonesia’s Industry 4.0 future. Last year President Widodo announced plans to create a new futuristic smart city capital on the island of Borneo, to replace Jakarta. The new capital will rely heavily on sustainable smart city systems, cleantech and infrastructure run by emerging technologies such as 5G, AI and IoT (Internet of Things). Originally slated for completion by 2024 (pre-pandemic) and estimated to cost $33 billion, the project reportedly received an offer by Japanese multinational investor SoftBank Group to invest up to $40 billion.

The Indonesia National AI Strategy details a programme roadmap for both its four key focus areas and the five national priorities, for which it considers plans as short-term (2020-2024) and longer-term (2025-2045). All in all, the strategy document identifies 186 programmes, including many that aim to develop the plans, pilot schemes, policies and regulations, plus checks and balances, necessary to drive the overall strategy.

Underpinning the acceleration of Indonesia’s artificial intelligence journey, Stranas KA includes plans for national standards, regulations and an ethics board to ensure that usage of AI is in accordance with the country’s Pancasila values system.

The development of the 194-page National Artificial Intelligence Strategy was coordinated by the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology or BPPT, a non-ministerial government agency under the coordination of the Ministry for Research and Technology, and was widely anticipated to be announced in July or August. A wide variety of public and private sector organisations contributed to the plan including government ministries, universities, industry associations and national telecom providers.

Although many of the programmes and initiatives detailed in the Indonesia National AI Strategy can be found in existing government strategies, plans and policy, Stranas KA is nevertheless highly ambitious. The success of the overall plan will likely rest heavily on how many of the foundation programmes it is able to get off the ground during the next 4-5 years.


August 12, 2020
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The Saudi national AI strategy has been approved, according to comments made by Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA) president, Dr. Abdullah bin Sharaf Al-Ghamdi this week. As reported by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) on Sunday, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has approved the Saudi National Strategy for Data & Artificial Intelligence (NSDAI), which has been prepared over the past year by SDAIA.

According to Dr. Abdullah, the new strategy will enable government and private sector programmes to contribute towards the goals of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030. Overall, the authority expects the new strategy to contribute to 66 of the country’s strategic goals, which are directly or indirectly related to data and AI.

SDAIA was established by Royal Order no. 74167 in August last year, giving the authority the mandate to drive the national data and AI agenda for transforming the country into a leading data-driven economy. The decree also ordered the authority to establish three specialised centres of expertise: the National Information Center, the National Data Management Office and the National Center for AI.

Speaking at the launch of the SDAIA’s new brand identity in March, Dr. Abdullah talked of an ambitious and innovative Saudi national AI strategy that would optimise national resources, improving efficiencies and enabling the creation of diversified economic sectors. However, no details of the plan have yet been shared publicly.

The SDAIA has already been using AI applications to analyse government processes and procedures, with its initial assessment being that the opportunities identified could generate more than $10 billion in government savings and additional revenues.

The authority has also established a national data bank consolidating more than 80 percent of government datasets (or 30 percent of total government digital assets) and has rolled-out a G-Cloud (or Government-Cloud) aimed at building one of the largest data clouds in the region through the merger of 83 data centres owned by over 40 Saudi government bodies.

According to a 2017 study by PWC on the global impact of artificial intelligence, AI could contribute $135 billion (12.4%) to Saudi Arabia’s GDP by the year 2030, being the second-highest predicted share for the contribution of AI to GDP in the Middle East region after the UAE.

The timing of the national AI strategy approval comes just a few weeks in advance of the planned Global AI Summit organised by the SDAIA, which is currently scheduled to take place in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, 14-15 September.

Updated 16.57 hrs 12 August 2020

Also read: Saudi national AI strategy announced with investment target of $20 billion – 21 October 2020


August 11, 2020
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Will AI replace human creativity? Or help them take creativity to the next level? It could simply depend on how we choose to use it.

Those that know me well will know that I have become obsessed with how artificial intelligence will impact brands, communications and consumers. Last week, I was inspired by an article by The Drum‘s Brands Editor Jen Faull, which explored the current state of AI in creative work and asks the question “Will artificial intelligence replace human creatives?”

It’s a great question to ask, because no one really knows the answer. Rephrase the question slightly and ask “could artificial intelligence replace human creatives?’ and I’d argue that the answer is, most definitely, yes (obviously, leaving aside the question of “when?”). Is AI destined to take over the creative brief entirely and replace human creatives and creative processes? I’d say that, at the end of the day, this is largely going to be up to us to decide.

The meteoric rise of so called artificial intelligence – which, these days, is used synonymously with the many applications, systems and devices powered by machine learning – is as impressive as it is scary. And, as with most up and coming technologies, it’s often very difficult to differentiate the reality from the hype.

Will AI replace creatives?

By all accounts, AI is by no means ready to fill our creative boots. We can train AI systems to learn things from data sets, analyse trends, make recommendations and actually create outputs of different kinds, including “creative work”. However, AI hasn’t yet been able to even convincingly mimic the complexities of human thought and creativity. Some would argue that it is only a matter of time before that data too is assimilated. Imagine an AI system trained on the experiences, thoughts and dreams of the planet’s top 100 advertising creative professionals? It could happen, just not quite yet.

Today, AI systems have been used to produce original creative advertising work with, at best, moderate success. However, AI is much better at targeting, deploying and optimising advertising assets. There are also an increasingly wide range of tools becoming available to inform, analyse, optimise and fast-track creative projects. As AI voice becomes ubiquitous, using those tools is going to become more intuitive and seamless – and so better to assist creative development.

Inspired by the article on The Drum, I posted some further questions on Linkedin last week – “Will AI fast-track the training and development of creative professionals? Or will AI’s efficiency strangle that essential pipeline of new creative talent that would have traditionally developed up through the ranks?”

‘You can’t box creativity’

A variety of advertising, marketing and technology professionals responded in comments and via messaging. You can read all the comments in full on my post from last week here. Meanwhile, it could be useful to summarise some key points here. Although there was consensus that AI is nowhere near ready to take over human creative work, I was interested to find that there were also some quite divergent opinions.

From some, there was certainty that AI could not and will not replace human creatives. Sherif El Ghamrawy at Photovision Plus believes that “there will always be certain things that remain uniquely human that no machine will ever be able to truly replicate”, citing emotion and imagination as key differentiators. Ramesh Naidu Garikamokkala at PAGO Analytics agrees that AI is not going to replace the role of our emotions.

Ibrahim Lahoud of Brand Lounge also seems to be in agreement with this, sharing that AI could fast-track training and development of creatives, but that’s where he draws the line. “AI can create a logo where human creatives will create a brand. AI can analyze shapes and colors where humans can read emotions.”

Jad Hindy at MRM/McCann noted (via messaging) that you can’t box creativity or confine it within a standard process. He says “ideation can’t be AI-ed, but the creation of assets can.”

Some of the futurists out there, do believe that AI could replace human creativity sometime in the future. Although, as Steven Gare of AI Blockchain Service puts it “defining AI in this context is pure speculation at this time”.

Most professionals agree that AI does promise to both empower and change the creative process, including career development. Lahoud’s take is that “AI will not replace creatives, but will rather be an incredibly powerful assistive tool that will act as an extension to their boiling minds”. Kassem Nasser, American University of Beirut, agrees and says that AI “is a technology that will open new challenges and opportunities to our minds not replace them.”

Meanwhile, Robert McGovern at Horizontal Digital notes that new AI tools could help with brainstorming, idea generation and connecting different concepts together, plus fast-tracking research work.

‘Think of AI as an exoskeleton for brains!’

In my mind, how creative professions – and creative industries as a whole – adapt to the arrival of AI and other new technologies is going to play the deciding role in determining whether we are empowered to create greater things or get used to accepting what AI creates for us. A point well made by Gowri Selka from Volantsys Analytics Inc., “it is critical for humans from all backgrounds of career to gain new skills and leverage these technologies to their benefit.”

For sure, the clock is ticking. AI and related technologies are developing at a pace that we’ve never experienced before. Like it or not, change is absolutely the only constant that we can look forward to. As Jürn-Christian Hocke at Select World urges, “we have to think about the new dealt cards NOW.” And says, creatives must learn what creativity and creative careers will look like in the future.

“Think of AI as an exoskeleton for brains!” is Lahoud’s advice for creatives. And, I think, he’s hit the nail on the head here.

As the capabilities of AI continue to grow, the creative process may look less and less like the process of old. However, whether this process remains human centric, is going to depend on how we frame AI’s future role. If AI is to super-charge human creativity, it’s up to creative professionals to take firm hold of the controls and remain at the very centre of the creative process. Time to suit up!

This story was originally published on Linkedin

Read the Arabic language version here: نظرة على مستقبل الإبداع