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UAE minister says joint ventures with Israel in AI sector are ‘undeniable need’

Speaking at a virtual conference, UAE’s minister for artificial intelligence says data-rich UAE could serve as testbed for Israeli tech

Start-Up Nation Central CEO Eugene Kandel, left, and Omar bin Sultan Al Olama, Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence of the United Arab Emirates in a virtual conversation on December 2, 2020 (Courtesy)
Start-Up Nation Central CEO Eugene Kandel, left, and Omar bin Sultan Al Olama, Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence of the United Arab Emirates in a virtual conversation on December 2, 2020 (Courtesy)

Omar bin Sultan Al Olama, who serves as the United Arab Emirates’ minister of state for artificial intelligence, hailed the collaboration between Israel and the UAE in that field as an “undeniable need” in a recent interview.

The virtual interview, with Start-Up Nation Central CEO Eugene Kandel, took place last week during the Industry 4.0 Global Leaders Summit 2020, a virtual interactive event organized by Start-Up Nation Central and Grove Ventures that brought together Israeli startups, industry leaders, experts and multinational corporations to collaborate and discuss the digitization of manufacturing.

Al Olama, who in 2017 became the first in the world to secure the title of minister of  artificial intelligence, said that within an estimated 15 years the title of AI minister will be as commonplace as energy minister or communications minister.

He added that because Israel and the UAE are small economies — albeit innovative — they find it hard to compete globally.

“The only way for us to actually have a seat at the table, and to make sure that we can push forward or have a mandate, is for us to work together,” Al Olama said. “So, to get the Emirati view of AI — to get the Israeli view of AI — we need to be working closely together to make sure that the bigger players actually take that seriously.”

Start-Up Nation Central is a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening Israel’s innovation ecosystem.

Al Olama said he believes collaboration sides can lead to worldwide dominance and bigger markets, where companies in the two countries are able to compete with global giants and become giants of their own.

“If you’re thinking about AI competing in Israel or AI [competing] in the UAE, if they cater only to these local markets, I think it’s all going to be a challenge to scale up and continuously be able to grow and compete with the big giants,” Al Olama said.

He said there are strengths in Israel that the UAE can benefit from, and vice versa, and suggested that the population diversity in the UAE will serve Israeli companies as a fertile ground to test out their technologies, similar to an initiative set up by the UAE with India. As part of the “India-UAE Artificial Intelligence Bridge,” an agreement signed in 2018 between the countries aimed at growing the two AI economies, Indian technologies were deployed in the UAE as a testbed, and their impact was studied and brought back to India, Al Olama said.

Al Olama also highlighted the potential for Israel and the UAE to make use of data together. He argued that AI is built on the velocity, variety and volume of data — with the UAE having “one of the best markets” when it comes to a high volume of  information because of a diverse array of nationalities, numerous destinations for UAE airlines and many ports operated by UAE logistics companies .

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