Articles Archives — Carrington Malin

July 13, 2021
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AI diplomacy has added a new dimension to international relations and the United Arab Emirates is working hard to build bilateral ties that boost its AI capabilities. It’s also using its AI successes in government and forward looking AI policies to enhance its international reputation.

The UAE’s appetite for artificial intelligence is plain to see for anyone browsing its daily news media. The country’s leadership was one of the world’s first to identify AI as a top priority for government planning and policy, announcing the UAE’s national AI strategy in 2017 and appointing the world’s first minister for AI.

This focus at the top has helped make AI a priority across business, education and the whole public sector. These days, the prospect of AI seems to be embedded into every government programme, public initiative and commercial deal.

It has also now become commonplace to see diplomatic communiqués that mention artificial intelligence. It seems, AI diplomacy is on the rise. The UAE’s foreign relations meetings and forums over the past few weeks with Azerbaijan, Japan, France, Greece, Luxembourg and others have all touched on artificial intelligence.

The GCC has always relied on foreign technology firms and so technology has always had its place in the region’s diplomacy. Over the past few years, the AI race has brought new focus to technology in foreign policy, in particular after the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Israel-UAE tech collaboration on the fast-track

The historic agreement to normalise bilateral relations between Israel and the UAE last August became the diplomatic event of the year. The agreement considered many economic, trade and security issues: cooperation in energy, water and developing a coronavirus vaccine were pinpointed at the time. However, much of the engagement between the two countries that followed has been tech-centric. In fact, the UAE’s minister of state for AI, Omar bin Sultan Al Olama, last year called the new technology collaboration between Israel and the UAE an ‘undeniable need’.

Shortly after the accord was signed, Abu Dhabi-based AI firm Group 42 announced the opening of a wholly-owned subsidiary in Israel, following memorandums of understanding with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd., and this year formed a joint venture with the latter. The group’s Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI) signed an agreement Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science to create joint AI research and development programmes.

A number of other significant partnerships were signed between Israeli and UAE business groups in 2020. Businessman Abdullah Saeed Al Naboodah partnered with Israeli venture capital giant OurCrowd to form Phoenix Capital, a $100 million fund to back technology investments between the two countries. Meanwhile, the UAE’s in-person tech trade events have seen planeloads of Israeli businessmen attend over the past year.

However, it would be a mistake to assume that the UAE is inclined to ‘put all its eggs in one basket’. The Emirates has a long-standing policy of building bilateral relations with almost all countries across the world, but AI diplomacy has given some of these new purpose. Reem bint Ibrahim Al Hashemy, the UAE’s Minister of State for International Cooperation, recently described Finland as one of the country’s most important partners in innovation and artificial intelligence. The UAE also seems to have stepped up engagement with Estonia on the back of the Baltic state’s success in leveraging big data and smart systems.

China-UAE relations bring R&D to the fore

One of the UAE’s most significant technology collaborations is its deepening relationship with China. Although diplomatic relations have been established for many years, President Xi Jinping’s 2018 visit to the UAE seems to have taken relations with China to a new level. This has included cooperation on combatting the coronavirus pandemic (for example, the UAE fast-tracked human trials of Sinopharm’s Covid-19 vaccine), energy, trade, investment, infrastructure, and high technologies including 5G, big data, and AI.

Increasingly, the Chinese and Emirati institutions are collaborating on technology, research and innovation. An M.o.U. on higher education was signed with China’s ministry of education during an official visit to Beijing by the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in 2015. That M.o.U. has paved the way for partnerships between universities and research institutions. Abu Dhabi’s Masdar Institute of Science and Technology (now part of Khalifa University) signed an agreement with Tsinghua University, sometimes referred to as China’s MIT, during the state visit.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed returned to Beijing in 2019, where he met Wang Zhigang, China’s Minister of Science and Technology at Tsinghua University and was awarded an honorary professorship by the university for his role in supporting science, technology and innovation.

Khalifa University of Science and Technology signed a joint research agreement with Tsinghua University, during the same visit. Khalifa University, which opened its Robotics and Intelligent Systems Institute the same year, also has agreements with Georgia Tech, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), among others.

The UAE mission to Beijing also returned with a deal signed between Abu Dhabi Investment Office (Adio) and Chinese AI giant SenseTime to locate its Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) AI Centre of Excellence in in the emirate.

New collaboration opportunities are being reviewed on a regular basis. China’s top scientific institution, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, signed a joint agreement on scientific research earlier this year with the United Arab Emirates University. Meanwhile, a few weeks ago, Dr. Sultan bin Ahmed Al Jaber, UAE Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology, and managing director & group CEO of ADNOC Group, spoke about the two countries growing technological cooperation at the 2021 Pujiang Innovation Forum in Shanghai.

Expo 2020 Dubai to grandstand tech cooperation

The biggest opportunity for the UAE to strengthen and build on state-backed technology cooperation this year is Expo 2020 Dubai (1 October 2021 to 31 March 2022), at which China has one of the largest national pavilions. Covering 4,600 square metres of space, the ‘Light of China’ pavilion will highlight the country’s achievements in information, science, technology and transportation. Exhibits include FAST (the five hundred metre aperture spherical telescope), the Beidou satellite navigation system, plus the latest 5G and artificial intelligence technologies.

Expo 2020, which is taking place under the theme ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’, is sure to be the most heavily tech-focused World Expo ever to take place, where visitors will be able to experience how AI, A.R., V.R. and other future technologies can be used for education, green energy, urban mobility and many other fields.

Many of the GCC’s biggest trading partners are naturally using Expo 2022 to showcase their countries’ science and technology capabilities. For example, the USA Pavilion will showcase innovations and technology from urban mobility to quantum computing.  While, according to Simon Penney, Her Majesty’s Trade Commissioner for the Middle East, artificial intelligence will be a key theme for the United Kingdom Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai, reflecting already strong collaboration between the UK and UAE in AI and advanced technologies.

Half of Expo 2020’s twelve premium partners are technology-related, including Chinese AI and Internet of Things company, Terminus Technologies which, as the official robotics partner, will deploy 150 service robots across the expo. Other premium partners include Accenture, Cisco, SAP, Siemens and UAE telecom provider Etisalat.

With 190 countries expected to participate in the six-month long exhibition, we can expect Expo 2020 Dubai to facilitate plenty of opportunities for AI diplomacy, AI collaborations and new AI deals.

This article was originally published as ‘A letter from the Gulf’ in The AI Journal.

Also see the previous ‘Letter from the Gulf’


July 10, 2021
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The UAE Council for Digital Wellbeing and the UAE National Programme for Artificial Intelligence this week published a Deepfake Guide to help raise social awareness about the technology. But what are deepfakes and are they all bad? Here are my top 9 deepfake video predictions!

Deepfake videos first hit the headlines six years ago when Stanford University created a model that could change the facial expressions of famous people in video. In 2017, University of Washington researchers released a fake video of former President Barack Obama making a speech using an artificial intelligence neural network model. It wasn’t long before consumers could create their own deepfake videos using a variety of tools, including deepfakesweb.com’s free online deepfake video application. Deepfake videos have now become commonplace circulating on social media of presidents, actors, pop stars and many other famous people.

So, what’s all the fuss about? Simply, that fakes of any nature can be used to deceive people or organisations with malicious intent or for ill-gotten gains. This could include cyber-bullying, fraud, defamation, revenge-porn or simply misuse of video for profit. It perhaps comes as no surprise that a 2019 study found that 96 per cent of all deepfake videos online were pornographic.

However, using technology to produce fakes is not a new thing. The swift rise of the photocopier in the 1970s and 80s allowed office workers all over the world to alter and reproduce copies of documents, letters and certificates. The ease with which printed information could be copied and altered, prompted changes in laws, bank notes, business processes and the use of anti-counterfeit measures such as holograms and watermarks.

Like photocopying, deepfake video technology is getting better and better at what it does as time goes on, but at a much faster speed of development. This means that the cutting edge of deepfake technology is likely to remain ahead of AI systems developed to detect fake video for a long time to come.

Any technology can be used for good or evil. However, in a few short years deepfake technology has got itself a terrible reputation. So, what is it good for? My take is that deepfake video technology – or synthetic video for the commercially-minded – is just one aspect of artificial intelligence that is going to change the way that we use video, but it will be an important one. Here are my top nine deepfake video predictions.

1. Deepfake tech is going to get easier and easier to use

It’s now quite easy to create a deepfake video using the free and paid-for consumer apps that are already in the public domain. However, as the world learns to deal with deepfake video, the technology will eventually be embedded into more and more applications, such as your mobile device’s camera app.

2. Deepfake technology’s reputation is going to get worse

There’s an awful lot of potential left for deepfake scandal! The mere fact that developers are creating software that can detect deepfake video, means that the small percentage of deepfake video that can not be identified as fake may be seen as having a virtual rubber stamp of approval! And believing that a influential deepfake video is authentic is where the problem starts.

3. Policymakers are going to struggle to regulate usage

Artificial intelligence is testing policymakers’ ability to develop and implement regulation like no other force before it. The issues are the most obvious when deepfakes are used for criminal activitiy (the courts are already having to deal with deepfake video). In the near future, regulators are also going to have to legislate on the rise of ‘legitimate’ use, seamlessly altering video for education, business, government, politics and other spheres.

4. One:one messaging

One of the most exciting possibilities is how deepfake modelling might be used to create personalised one:one messaging. Today, it’s possible for you to create a video of you voicing a cute animation via an iPhone. Creating and sending a deepfake video of your real self will soon be as easy as sending a Whatsapp message. If that sounds too frivolous, imagine that you’re stuck in a meeting and want to send a message to your five year-old.

5. Personalisation at scale

As the technology becomes easier to use and manipulate, and as the processing power becomes available to automate that process further, we’re going to be able to create extremely lifelike deepfake videos – or synthetic videos, if you rather – at scale. London-based Synthesia is already testing personalised AI video messages. That will open the doors for marketers to personalise a new generation of video messages at scale and deliver a whole new experience to consumers. Imagine if every new Tesla owner received a personal video message from Elon Musk (well, ok, imagine something else then!).

6. Deepfakes on the campaign trail

As marketers get their hands on new tools to create personalised video messages for millions, then there may be no stopping political parties from doing so too. Has your candidate been banned from social media? No problem! Send out a personalise appeal for support directly to your millions of supporters! In fact, this is one use that I could see being banned outright before it even gets started.

7. Video chatbots

There are already a number of developers creating lifelike synthetic video avatars for use as customer service chatbots, including Soul Machines and Synthesia. As AI generated avatars become more lifelike, the lines between different types of video avatars and AI altered deepfake videos are going to blur. The decisions on what platform, what AI technology, what video experience and what type of voice to add, are going to be based on creative preferences or brand goals, not technology.

8. Deepfake entertainment

Although some deepfake videos can be entertaining, their novelty value already seems to be fading. In the future, whether a deepfake is entertaining or not will depend on the idea and creativity behind it. We seem to be headed for an some kind of extended reality music world, where music, musicians, voices, characters and context are all interchangeable, manipulated by increasingly sophisticated technology. The Korean music industry is already investing heavily in virtual pop stars and mixed reality concerts. Deepfake representations will not be far behind. After all, they’re already reading the news! The Chinese national news service (Xinhua) has been using an AI news anchor for the past two years.

9. Your personal AI avatar

In 2019, Biz Stone co-founder of Twitter and Lars Buttler, CEO of San Francisco-based The AI Foundation, announced that they were working on a new technology that would allow anyone to create an AI avatar of themselves. The AI avatar would look like them, talk like them and act like them, autonomously. In comparison, creating personal avatars using deepfake technology (i.e. manipulating already existing video) could be a lot easier to do. It remains to be seen how long it will take before we have the capability to have our own autonomous AI avatars, but creating our own personal AI video chatbot using deepfake tech is just around the corner!

I hope that you liked my top deepfake video predictions! But, what do you think? Will AI altered deepfakes and AI generated video avatars soon compete for our attention? Or will one negate the need for the other? And how long do you think it will be before consumers are over-targeted by personalised AI generated video? Be the first to comment below and win a tube of Pringles!

This article was first posted on Linkedin. If you’re interested in this sort of thing, I also wrote about deepfakes for The National a couple of years ago. You can find that article here.


May 3, 2021
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GCC technology investments are growing, as private investors, investment banks and sovereign wealth funds switch focus from traditional investment assets such as bonds, equity and real estate.

In October 2017, Saudi Arabia’s Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced plans to build a $500 billion smart city of the future called NEOM and made headlines around the world. It’s a grand scheme to create an AI-driven city that crosses the borders of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia – and, mainly thanks to NEOM’s massive scale and expense, some have found the plan, simply, hard to believe.

However, that same year, with far less media coverage, Saudi also launched its nationwide smart cities programme, selecting 17 cities for digital transformation projects, with the support of $500 billion earmarked for modernising urban developments across the Kingdom. Although the largest of its kind in the Gulf, other government-planned smart city initiatives have already been set in motion in Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

The Gulf states have always been big buyers of technology and one could describe today’s government digital transformation policies as fearless! The UAE, for example, has a history of enacting bold initiatives that, rightly or wrongly, would require many years of debate and review elsewhere. The race to embrace facial recognition technologies is one such area of digital policy and a key milestone in this month’s news is that residents of the Emirates can now use biometric facial recognition to access thousands of public services.

Naturally, the GCC’s affinity for new technology has made the region a fast-growing market for 5G, AI, blockchain, Edge and IoT technologies and the past month has had no shortage of commercial announcements from tech companies competing for a slice of the pie.

The buzz around the Gulf’s smart cities market

It’s no secret that partnerships are key to developing sustainable smart cities and these are being put in place at all levels across the Gulf.

This week, digital energy management leader Schneider Electric and NXN, a leading regional provider of smart digital services for the smart cities sector, announced a partnership to collaborate on smart energy solutions. Meanwhile, Chinese AIoT solutions developer Terminus Group and UAE solutions provider Injazat signed a partnership targeting urban digitalisation in the region.

Urban mobility is also seen with increased frequency in the Gulf’s news media. A Huawei exec was quoted recently as being bullish about the market for 5G-enabled self-driving cars in the Middle East and he’s not alone. In fact, overall, the interest in autonomous vehicles seems to have entered a new phase and signing up potential ecosystem partners has become a priority.

Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), which has a strategy to transform 25 percent of total trips within the city to driverless transport by the year 2030, just signed an MoU with the World Economic Forum related to its Safe Drive Initiative Framework (SafeDI Framework). This was also the month that Dubai’s Crown Prince H.H. Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum confirmed that GM-backed autonomous vehicle company Cruise will supply the emirates’s robotaxi shuttles. Cruise could operate its Origin ride-sharing shuttles in Dubai as soon as 2023.

Facial recognition? That’ll do nicely, sir!

Following a cabinet decision in February to approve the use of facial recognition for public and private services, the UAE government has announced the integration of facial recognition into the national public services app, UAE Pass. Users will be able to use biometric facial recognition to gain access to 6,000 services provided by over 130 government departments and public authorities. Private sector payment services using biometric facial recognition ID are expected to follow in the near future.

The UAE is not shy of using facial recognition technology for security purposes either. Already in use by police across Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah emirates in public CCTV systems, police vehicles and radar cameras, the number of pilots using facial recognition technologies are growing fast. This week, Sharjah Police disclosed that it has multiple trials in action using drones equipped with facial recognition technology to help police search for suspects or wanted criminals, police public areas and monitor suspicious behaviour.

Robots move to front-of-house in Gulf retail

Robotics has been in use by major retailers and distributors in the GCC for some years for warehousing and stock control. Supermarket giant Carrefour has Tally robots (manufactured by Californian automation startup Simbe Robotics, Inc.) in use across eleven of its retail malls in the UAE, for auditing and stock control. Now the group has started to use robots for customer service, opening its first fully-automated store in Dubai Financial District last year, with app ordering and a robot delivery service.

The idea seems to be catching on and a number of retail automation projects are in various stages of development across the region. This month, national telecom operator Omantel announced plans to partner with Oman Oil Marketing Company to enable the first AI and IoT-powered smart store in the Sultanate of Oman.

The growing curiosity about robots has also given rise to a number of Robo-diners in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. ‘Restaurant Robot’, a new Asian restaurant in the southwestern Saudi port city of Jazan, recently made the local press. Conceived and run by a young female engineer, Reham Omar, the restaurant’s six waitress robots (manufactured by Chinese robotics firm CSJBOT) have proved to be quite a hit with diners.

Increased focus on GCC technology investments

Despite the region’s high spending on acquiring technology, the vast proportion of Gulf investment managed by large private investors, investment banks and sovereign wealth funds has historically gone into traditional investment assets such as bonds, equity and real estate. When tech has been a target, it has typically been the blue-chip stocks and certainly not new, unproven tech ventures. Today, the attitudes of both private investors and fund managers are changing rapidly. A Financial Times exclusive a few weeks ago revealed that Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund, Mubadala, is turning away from its roots and ramping up investments in technology, healthcare and disruptive industries.

Last year Mubadala announced that it was investing $2 billion in a 25-year strategy plan led by tech-focused private equity firm Silver Lake. Earlier this month, Silver Lake disclosed that it is investing about $800 million in Abu Dhabi AI and cloud computing company Group 42 (G42), in a sign of the private-equity firm’s deepening relationship with the emirate. The week afterward, Group 42 announced an AI and Big Data joint venture with Israel’s state-owned Rafael Advanced Defense Systems. Although this might look like a game of venture capital pass the parcel, the key takeaway is that big Gulf funds are now looking to new technology and global tech-focused funds are keen to partner with them.

Saudi funds are targeting emerging tech too. Upcoming venture capital investor, backed by one of the world’s largest oil companies, Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures was among a group that awarded $50 million to Seattle-based industrial analytics startup Seeq Corp., as part of its Series C funding round this year. Meanwhile, Riyadh-based Future Investment Initiative Institute (FII-I) has invested in German electric VTOL aircraft startup Lilium.

Funding is also being used as a lever to bring research and development into the GCC. Abu Dhabi-based ADQ‘s Alpha Wave Incubation (AWI) fund invests in Asian startups on the condition that they establish an R&D operation in the city. This month, ADQ announced an investment in Indonesia-based edtech startup CoLearn’s $10 million Series A funding round. As a result, CoLearn is already hiring for its new Abu Dhabi-based R&D team.

UAE National AI Strategy

Lastly, if you are curious to learn more about the UAE’s National AI Strategy, I can recommend watching this new video of the Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, Digital Economy and Remote Work Applications, H.E. Omar Sultan AlOlama who presents a concise overview of the country’s strategy and its implementation.

This article was originally published as ‘A letter from the Gulf’ in The AI Journal.

Also see last month’s ‘Letter from the Gulf’


April 14, 2021
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Brazil’s national artificial intelligence strategy – a Estratégia Brasileira de Inteligência Artificial or EBIA in Portuguese – was published in the Diário Oficial da União, the government’s official gazette, last week. The publication of the Brazilian national AI strategy follows a year of public consultation (via an online platform), seeking recommendations from the technology industry and academic experts and benchmarking (2019-2020) and a year of planning and development. The strategy focuses on the policy, investment and initiatives necessary to stimulate innovation and promote the ethical development and application of AI technologies in Brazil, to include education and research and development.

As a country that has struggled with both racial equality and gender equality, it’s no surprise that ethical concerns and policies are made a priority by EBIA. Therefore, core to the strategy is that AI should not create or reinforce prejudices, putting the onus on the developers of artificial intelligence systems to follow ethical principles, meet regulatory requirements and ultimately the responsibility for how their systems function in the real world. Ethical principles will also be applied by the government in issuing tenders and contracts for solutions and services powered by AI. The strategy also embraces the OECD’s five principles for a human-centric approach to AI.

Brazil's national artificial intelligence strategy chart

It’s important when reviewing the new EBIA to take into account the Brazilian Digital Transformation Strategy (2018),or E-Digital, which puts in place some foundational policy relevant to AI. E-Digital defines five key goals 1) promoting open government data availability; 2) promoting transparency through the use of ICT; 3) expanding and innovating the delivery of digital services; 4) sharing and integrating data, processes, systems, services and infrastructure; and 5) improving social participation in the lifecycle of public policies and services. This last goal was clearly embraced in the development of EBIA by including the year-long public consultation as part of the process.

More to follow on Brazil’s national artificial intelligence strategy…

Download A Estratégia Brasileira de Inteligência Artificial (EBIA) summary (PDF, Portuguese)

Also read about last year’s publication of the Indonesia National AI Strategy (Stranas KA) and Saudi Arabia’s National Strategy for Data & AI.


April 4, 2021
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Budgets fueled by oil revenues and a relative lack of legacy systems offer distinct advantages to technology master planners. So, can the GCC leapfrog the West in AI adoption?

First time visitors to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates or any of the other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, cannot fail to be impressed by the pristine international airports, awe-inspiring highways and comprehensive digital government systems.

The region’s state-of-the-art infrastructure and ability to roll-out advanced technology owe much, not only to oil revenues but also to the lack of legacy infrastructure and systems. This has allowed the Gulf states to leap-frog and embrace new technologies faster than many countries in the West. Now they’re hoping to do the same with artificial intelligence, by embracing AI faster than anyone else.

If the past month’s news is anything to go by, the GCC has recently switched its adoption of emerging technologies up a gear.

UAE reveals 4IR development strategy

Notably, amongst the many tech-related government announcements in March, the UAE last week revealed its new industrial development strategy, ‘Operation 300bn’.  The plan aims to create a new industrial ecosystem consisting primarily of high-tech and Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) ventures. The past five years have seen the Emirates push technological innovation to the top of the national agenda. The UAE was one of the first countries to announce a national AI strategy in 2017 and the primary motivation behind its widely publicised Mars Hope Probe is actually to help catalyse innovation at home.

‘Operation 300bn’, which aims to increase the industrial sector’s contribution to the UAE’s GDP from AED 133 billion ($36bn) to AED 300 billion ($82bn) by 2031, confirms the central position of an advanced technology agenda at the heart of the country’s policymaking.

Qatar and Saudi Arabia have also increased their 4IR focus during the past few years, with Saudi Arabia forming the Saudi Data and AI Authority (SDAIA) in 2019 and announcing its national AI strategy in October last year. This month Qatar signaled readiness to proceed with its own AI strategy, forming a new committee to help drive implementation.

Fast-tracking digital transformation

Meanwhile, we’ve seen both public and private sectors increase the rate of adoption of AI and other emerging technologies, further accelerated by the onset of Covid-19.

According to new results released from Dell Technologies’ 2020 Digital Transformation Index, Saudi Arabia and the UAE seem to be accelerating ahead of the rest of the world in implementing digital transformation and cutting-edge technologies. The research found that 90 percent of organisations in the two countries fast-tracked digital transformation programmes last year, ahead of the index’s global benchmark of 80 percent.

This fast adoption is evidenced by news of some massive technology projects that we’ve heard about during the past few weeks.

DP World, Dubai’s multinational logistics and container terminal operator, has now implemented a fully-automated Terminal Operating System for one of its key container terminals in Jebel Ali Port. The home-developed system includes autonomous systems and remote control functionality for all of the facilities in the terminal.

In the energy sector, Aramco Trading Company, or ATC, which is responsible for transporting Saudi Aramco’s oil supplies to worldwide markets, and developer Maana have implemented an AI maritime fleet optimisation application purpose-built for the oil and gas industry. The application runs a digital twin of ATC’s global maritime operations, using AI to automatically optimise schedules across the fleet with a single click and offer scenarios and insights to aid planning.

Desert smart cities

There was also no shortage of smart city news this month, with Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, in particular, forging ahead with initiatives to improve the lives of city residents, boost competitiveness and develop urban sustainability. Dubai International Airport’s use of iris scanner ID systems for automated passport control made headlines in February. This month, a Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan was announced to leverage city planning and new technologies to create greater urban sustainability.

In Kuwait, Hong Kong group Wai Hung and Investment Projects General Trading Company signed a deal to build one million smart parking spaces in nine countries across the Middle East.  While, in neighbouring Saudi Arabia, the holy city of Makkah (Mecca) is deploying solar-powered smart bins to collect and autonomously sort empty plastic bottles.

Abu Dhabi’s AI powerhouse Group 42 announced a new partnership with the UK’s Serco Group to develop AI and IoT solutions for facilities management and support the outsourcing company’s shift towards data-driven operations. We may well see the future impact of this partnership reach far beyond the Gulf.

In another Group 42-backed initiative announced this month, Abu Dhabi’s first public trial of driverless vehicle services will begin by the end of 2021. Initially, three autonomous vehicles will provide transport services to tourists and residents visiting the Yas Mall area, but the plan is to increase both the coverage and the number of AVs involved during 2022.

Building the Gulf’s first quantum computer

Quantum computing has already been identified as an area of opportunity by GCC states, with a number of quantum computing research groups being formed in universities in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.  This year, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) has been recruiting for a Professor of Devices for Quantum Technologies, who will ultimately lead the university’s efforts to build quantum devices.

However, in Abu Dhabi, the newly formed Technology Innovation Institute (TII) is already building its own quantum computer at its Quantum Research Centre, in collaboration with Barcelona-based deep-tech startup Qilimanjaro. TII is the applied research arm of the emirate’s Advanced Technology Research Council, which both formulates research policy and orchestrates projects, resources and funding.

It’s research and development ventures such as this that symbolise the latest dreams of Gulf policy-makers. Over the years, the Gulf states have proved to be astute buyers of advanced technology, while taking none of the risks necessary to develop innovation at home.

Today, along with ambitious policies to embrace emerging technologies, build smart cities and leverage AI, there is also now momentum behind policies that actively encourage home-grown technology development. The region’s nascent R&D sector has already become an early beneficiary of this policy shift and it’s a sector that the world can expect to hear much more from during the coming years.

This article was originally published as ‘A letter from the Gulf’ in The AI Journal.


January 10, 2021
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My New Year’s Linkedin poll about changes in how people feel about their ethical concerns regarding AI doesn’t prove much, but it does show that 2020 did little to ease those concerns.

Opinions and our level of understanding about artificial intelligence can vary a great deal from person to person. For example, I consider myself a bit of a technophile and an advocate of many technologies including AI, with a higher than average level of understanding. However, I harbour many concerns about the ethical application, usage and the lack of governance for some AI technologies. My knowledge doesn’t stop me having serious concerns, nor do those concerns stop me from seeing the benefits of technology applied well. I also expect my views on the solutions to ethical issues to differ from others. AI ethics is a complex subject.

So, my intention in running this limited Linkedin poll over the past week (96 people responded) was not to analyse the level of concern that people feel about AI, nor the reasons behind it, but simply whether the widepread media coverage about AI during the pandemic had either heightened or alleviated people’s concerns.

The results of the poll show that few people (9%) felt that their ethical concerns about AI were alleviated during 2020. Meanwhile, a significant proportion (38%) felt that 2020’s media coverage had actually heightened their ethical concerns about AI. We can’t guess the level of concern among the third and largest group – the 53% that voted 2020 ‘hasn’t changed anything’ – however, it’s clear that 2020 media coverage about AI brought no news to alleviate any concerns they might have either.

Artificial intelligence ethical concerns poll 2020

Media stories about the role of AI technologies in responding to the coronavirus pandemic began to appear early on in 2020, with governments, corporations and NGOs providing examples of where AI was being put to work and how it was benefiting citizens, customers, businesses, health systems, public services and society in general. Surely, this presented a golden opportunity for proponents of AI to build trust in its applications and technologies?

Automation and AI chat bots allowed private and public sector services, including healthcare systems, to handle customer needs as live person-to-person communications became more difficult to ensure. Meanwhile, credit was given to AI for helping to speed up data analysis, research and development to find new solutions, treatments and vaccines to protect society against the onslaught of Covid-19. Then there was the wave of digital adoption by retail companies (AI powered or not) in an effort to provide digital, contactless access to their services, boosting consumer confidence in services and increasing usage of online ordering and contactless payments.

On the whole, trust in the technology industry remains relatively high compared to other industries, but, nevertheless, trust is being eroded and it’s not a surprise that new, less understood and less regulated technologies such as AI are fueling concerns. Fear of AI-driven job losses is a popular concern, but so are privacy, security and data issues. However, many people around the world are broadly positive about AI, in particular those in Asia. According to Pew Research Center, two thirds or more of people surveyed in India, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan say that AI has been a good thing for society.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, AI’s public image has had wins and losses. For example, research from Amedeus found that 56% of Indians believe new technologies will boost their confidence in travel. Meanwhile, a study of National Health Service (NHS) workers in London found that although 70% believed that AI could be useful, 80% of participants believed that there could be serious privacy issues associated with its use. However, despite a relatively high level of trust in the US for government usage of facial recognition, the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 highlighted deep concerns, prompting Amazon, IBM and Microsoft to halt the sale of facial recognition to police forces.

Overall, I don’t think that AI has been seen as the widespread buffer to the spread of Covid-19 as it, perhaps, could have turned out to be. Renowned global AI expert Kai-Fu Lee commented in a webinar last month that AI wasn’t really prepared to make the decisive difference in combating the spread of the new coronavirus. With no grand victory over Covid-19 to attribute to AI, its role over the past year it’s understandable that there was no grand victory for AI’s public image either. Meanwhile, all the inconvenient questions about AI’s future and the overall lack of clear policies that fuel concerns about AI remain, some even attracting greater attention during the pandemic.

This article was first posted on Linkedin.


December 24, 2020
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High volumes of U.S. election Google search terms during 2020 is no surprise, but the absence of Donald Trump from Google Trends U.S. 2020 Year in Search is one!

There tend to be few surprises in Google’s ‘Year in Search’ trends report, which are routinely dominated by celebrities, entertainment and sports. The Internet has, after all, become an essential utility for many and the first point of enquiry for any information need. However, in U.S. election years, some of that public attention naturally turns to politics.

Each election year, as one would expect, there are more searches for U.S. politicians and presidential candidates and their running mates in particular. ‘Sarah Palin’, the late John McCain’s running mate in his 2008 presidential election campaign was listed as Google’s fastest growing global search term, beating out searches for ‘Beijing 2008’ Summer Olympics. Presidential candidates drive high search volumes during election years and normally feature in Google’s Year in Search top ten lists.

Obama’s election campaigns

In his debut presidential election year Barack Obama dominated U.S. Google searches, with Obama becoming the fastest rising search term and the volume of searches eclipsing most other search terms including McCain, Palin and Democrat vice-presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Famed for the success of his 2008 election social media campaign, Obama was also a big spender with Google spending an estimated $7.5 million with the Internet giant, or about 45 percent of his campaigns total digital ad spending. Obama again rose to high volumes during 2012 presidential campaign Google searches, outranking Mitt Romney in search volumes.

All in all, in terms of online campaigning, Obama was a hard act to follow.

Enter Donald Trump

One year before the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Donald Trump’s search volumes were not only trending, but topping Barack Obama’s famous 2008 presidential campaign! During some week’s Trump’s search volume even topped Obama’s 2008 record by 4-5 times.

Trump versus Obama search (Vox)

Donald Trump appeared top of Google’s 2016 Year in Search tables, ranking as the number one search in the People category, followed by his opponent Hilary Clinton in second place. Neither Trump’s, nor Clinton’s running mates appeared in the top ten list though.

2020 presidential election year

In Google’s 2020 U.S. Year of Search trends report, one name is conspicuous by its absence in the People category: Donald Trump.

As is usually the case during none-election years, Trump and other politicians were largely absent from the top ten rankings in Google’s 2017, 2018 and 2019 Year of Search reports. Although first lady, Melania Trump, ranked high in search volume during 2017, mainly due to publicity around her first official engagements in January of that year.

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However, the top ten list of the most searched for people in 2020, according to Google, doesn’t include Donald Trump. The now president-elect Joe Biden is the clear winner in Google’s list, ranking first in the People category. Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice-presidential candidate ranks fourth, after North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un and U.K. prime minister Boris Johnson.

Even music artist Kanye West, who ran his own independent 2020 United States presidential election campaign, ranked 9th in the year’s top People searches.

Trump not a popular search term in 2020?

I’m not a big Trump fan and I’m not trying to seed yet another conspiracy theory, but doesn’t that seem a bit odd? There’s certainly been no shortage of Trump press coverage this year. Spikes in Google search volumes don’t imply any change in sentiment alone. So, neither Trump’s popularity as a president nor the election results would automatically reduce search volumes. Key word searches are typically prompted by news media or social media coverage, in both of which Trump has seen in ample measure throughout 2020.

Google’s own data on Google Trends doesn’t seem to support either Joe Biden’s top search volume ranking or Donald Trump’s absence. Throughout the past 52 weeks, Trump Google search volumes have exceeded Biden’s every week in, according to one Google Trends search. However, results seem to be inconsistent, in an identical search a few hours earlier Trump searches exceeded Biden’s in 40 out of 52 weeks. In that Google Trends query, there were eight 8 weeks in which Biden searches exceeded Trump’s and four weeks where search volumes were roughly the same for each. Either way, Trump searches overall exceeded Biden’s.

From the data visible via Google Trends, it seems highly improbable that Biden’s overall 2020 search volume exceeded Trumps. In order for this to happen, this would require that the few weeks prior to election day would have to have driven more search volume for Biden than during most of the year combined for Trump. This is not what the Google Trends charts show (including the chart above).

I’m sure that there’s a logical explanation, isn’t there now Google?

This article was first posted on Linkedin.


December 3, 2020
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You may have worked long and hard on your marketing plan, but how well does it support ongoing communication with your internal stakeholders?

The phrase ‘hearts and minds’ was first used by a French general during the French Indochina-Chinese border rebellion in the 19th century. It’s been used as a military strategy ever since, making emotional or intellectual appeals to the other side, in recognition of the fact that military superiority does not always provide the best or the swiftest victory in armed conflict. And, like many other military concepts, the ‘hearts and minds’ strategy was appropriated by marketing and communications strategists long ago!

However, marketing is by no means alone in borrowing from military strategy. Human resources has proved to be another big user of ‘hearts and minds’ and there are good reasons for this: budget and organisational dynamics. HR never receives the budget that it feels it deserves and so is forced to choose its battles carefully. Meanwhile, communications that put forth company ambitions, messages and cultural achievements simply fall flat if they are widely disputed in hushed tones around the water cooler. If internal stakeholders don’t believe and feel emotionally involved in plans, policies and practices, they’re far less likely to unite behind your cause.

And so it is with the internal communications from any department, marketing included.

Much of marketing’s internal communications routinely focuses on approvals and successes – i.e. the milestones at the beginning and at the end of any marketing campaign. Once the big bang of the final presentation is over and approvals are secured, participation of other stakeholders can fade away rapidly. Marketing plans, strategies and budgets are rightly presented as business cases for the careful consideration of decision makers. Far less effort tends to be invested in making sure that plans are easy to understand, highly useable and appeal to the ‘hearts and minds’ of other departments.

‘People just don’t understand marketing’

A common complaint of marketing heads the world over is that their work is so little understood by the rest of the organisation. There is scarce appreciation for all the work that goes into research, product positioning, creative concepts, or running effective campaigns. As a result, marketing successes are not always met with the thunderous applause that the marketing team believes is due! However, if your full year of internal communications consists of approvals and successes, then surely this is to be expected?

Accelerated by digital transformation and the breaking down of information silos, marketing and communications today not only maps to almost every part of the organisation, but also now shares data with it. All the more reason to have key internal stakeholders not only invested in approval and success milestones, but also emotionally and intellectually invested in the strategy and marketing activities themselves.

So then, am I trying to tell you that everyone in your organisation should be constantly referring to your marketing plan? No, but I am saying that your marketing plan should be a thoughtfully crafted communications tool that informs and supports marketing’s internal narrative throughout the year.

It should be something that helps frame marketing leadership’s communications with senior management, department heads, internal stakeholders, business partners and agencies. For this, your plan should be structured in a way that makes it easy-to-use, a valuable reference, useful to abstract from, and relevant to your wider audience of stakeholders.

Review your plan like it’s ‘external’

Ideally, your marketing plan will be pyramidal in structure – or a pyramid of pyramids – that presents key goals, findings and strategies towards the start and cascades more detail afterward. Ideally too, those top-level goals and strategies will be written in a self-explanatory way that is easily understandable by non-marketing professionals. If you strive to make your goals and strategies memorable and to clearly show relevance to the other functions in the organisation, so much the better. Anything that helps promote greater understanding of your goals, challenges and strategies has got to be a good thing, right?

A useful way to review your marketing plan is to imagine that you’ve written it for an external audience. Marketing content for external audiences normally goes through a very different process to internal communications. There tends to be a great deal of scrutiny of key messages and what perceptions will be formed by customers, partners, the media and other key audiences. The form, style, colour and simplicity of external communications are brainstormed, ideated, iterated, tested and optimised. In contrast, internal communications are often deemed as good enough if they are honest, free of typos and don’t over-commit!

Your annual marketing plan is a core document for marketing planning, budgeting and approvals. However, it’s a valuable communications exercise, helping to frame marketing’s internal messaging for the year. The more effectively your plan communicates your goals, plans and strategies, the more key points both marketing and non-marketing stakeholders are going to understand, retain and refer to later. Beyond the simple benefit of ensuring that everyone’s reading from the same manual, you may find that focusing a little more on ‘hearts and minds’ could even turn your internal critics into advocates. And wouldn’t that be something?

This article was first posted on Linkedin.

Also read: Is your marketing plan presentation the best it can be?


November 5, 2020
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Legendary marketing pioneer and author Philip Kotler defines brand positioning as ‘the act of designing the company’s offering and image to occupy a distinctive place in the mind of the target market’. Positioning is a critical component in the promotion of any venture, from advertising and public relations, to sales and customer relationship management (CRM), even having an impact on the structure and policies of growing companies. Founders tend to work hard on positioning their ventures, but a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

In these days of Internet learning, it’s easy to read about the role of positioning, see examples of what it looks like and find out how to go about developing your own positioning statement. It’s something that’s top of mind for all founders, whether they realise that it’s positioning or not. Finding a process that works for you can help you crystalise your value proposition and create a clear positioning statement.

Nevertheless, developing strong positioning that differentiates your brand from competitors and aligns exactly with your business strategy, is easier said than done. Our end result in developing brand positioning is defining how we could like our customers to think and feel about our brand, but for this actually to be the case, positioning must work well across every aspect of our brand, marketing and communications.

If your business proposition is not receiving the recognition that it deserves, internally or externally, this could be due to a weak point in your positioning strategy. Here are five reasons why your brand positioning may not be working for you.

Continue reading this story on SME10x.com.


October 21, 2020
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The Saudi national AI strategy was announced today at the virtual Global AI Summit by Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA) president Dr. Abdullah bin Sharaf Al-Ghamdi. The National Strategy for Data & AI (NSDAI) includes ambitious goals for skilling-up Saudi talent, growing the nation’s startup ecosystem and attaining global leadership in the AI space. It also aims to raise $20 billion in investment for data and AI initiatives.

Dr. Abdullah bin Sharaf Al-Ghamdi, President of the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA) today gave a brief introduction to some of the key goals of Saudi Arabia’s national AI strategy, now named the National Strategy for Data & AI (NSDAI). Speaking at the inaugural Global AI Summit, he advised that Saudi Arabia has set ambitious targets for its national AI strategy, including a goal of attracting $20 billion in investments by 2030, both in foreign direct investment (FDI) and local funding for data and artificial intelligence initiatives.

As detailed by Dr. Al-Ghamdi, the Kindgom aims to rank among the top 15 nations for AI by 2030, it will train 20,000 data and AI specialists and experts and it will grow an ecosystem of 300 active data and AI startups. He also urged participants in the virtual event to challenge themselves, to think and work together, and to shape the future of AI together for the good of humanity.

Formed last year, with a mandate to drive the national data and AI agenda, the SDAIA developed a national AI strategy which was approved by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in August 2020. No details of the National Strategy for Data & AI were shared until today.

According to an official SDAIA statement, the NSDAI will roll-out a multi-phase plan that both addresses urgent requirements for the next five years and contributes to Vision 2030 strategic development goals. In the short term, the strategy will aim to accelerate the use of AI in education, energy, government, healthcare and mobility sectors.

Saudi National Strategy for Data & AI goals
Source: Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA)

Six strategic areas have been identified in the NSDAI:

  • Ambition – positioning Saudi Arabia as a global leader and enabler for AI, with a goal of ranking among the first 15 countries in AI by 2030.
  • Skills – transforming the Saudi workforce and skilling-up talent, with a target of creating 20,000 AI and Data specialists and experts by 2030.
  • Policy & regulation – developing a world-class regulatory framework, including for the ethical use of data and AI that will underpin open data and economic growth.
  • Investment – attracting FDI and local investment into the data and AI sector, with a goal of securing a total of $20 billion (SAR 75b) in investments.
  • Research and innovation – the NSDAI will also drive the development of research and innovation institutions in data and AI, with an objective of the Kingdom ranking among the top 20 countries in the world for peer reviewed data and AI publications.
  • Digital ecosystem – the new national AI strategy also aims to drive the commercialization and industry application of data and AI, creating an ecosystem with at least 300 AI and data startups by the year 2030.

Over the past year, SDAIA has established three specialised centres of expertise: the National Information Center, the National Data Management Office and the National Center for AI. It has also begun building perhaps the largest government data cloud in the region, merging 83 data centres owned by over 40 Saudi government bodies. More than 80 percent of government datasets have so far been consolidated under a national data bank.

The formation of the SDAIA follows the adoption of the government’s ‘ICT Strategy 2023‘ in 2018, which aims to transform the kingdom into a digital and technological powerhouse. The government identified technology as a key driver for its Vision 2030 blueprint for economic and social reform. Digitisation and artificial intelligence are seen as key enablers of the wide-ranging reforms.

Artrificial intelligence, big data and IoT are also pivotal for the massive $500 billion smart city, Neom, announced by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2017. Infrastructure work on the 26,000 square kilometre city began earlier this year.

Meanwhile, the authority has been using AI to identify opportunities for improving the Kingdom’s government processes, which may result in some $10 billion in government savings and additional revenues.

More than fifty government officials and global AI leaders are speaking at this week’s Global AI Summit, which takes place today and tomorrow. The online event coincides with the year of Saudi’s presidency of the G20.

Download the National Strategy for Data & AI Strategy Narrative – October 2020 (PDF)

Watch the NSDAI promotion video from the Global AI Summit (Youtube)

Updated 23 October 2020