Bringing together 700 experts from future-facing technologies and disciplines, in a country that has a stated goal of becoming an innovation leader, the aim of the Annual Meeting of the Global Future Councils is to gather ideas and actions to prepare the world for the future. Twelve months from last year’s meeting, when the United Arab Emirates announced its intention to develop a national strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, here are some of the ways the country has been turning this vision into reality.
Meet the world’s first Minister for AI. Building on its national strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, announced in September 2017, the UAE has acted swiftly to put in place the talent required to establish itself as a global hub for innovation and emerging technologies. Among the six new ministerial appointments to make the Fourth Industrial Revolution a reality was 27-year-old Omar Bin Sultan Al Olama, the world’s first Minister for artificial Intelligence.
Pneumatic trains and flying taxis. It’s not just the country’s stated desire to become the first to launch Elon Musk’s revolutionary Hyperloop One – a move that could cut travel times between Abu Dhabi and Dubai down to 12 minutes – the UAE is making huge strides in revolutionizing transport in other areas. One such plan is to introduce the world’s first taxi drones. With the first public trial already successfully under its belt, Dubai, working with German firm Volocopter, hopes that people will be able to hail a flying cab from a nearby Voloport within the next five years.
Billions of dollars go to education. Relying on hard infrastructure projects such as Hyperloop tunnels or droneports is one thing, but one less-reported and nevertheless huge area of change is in the field of education and social development. In October 2017, the country announced a project, One Million Arab Coders, to bring computer programming skills to young people across the Middle East. Closer to home, the country’s most recent federal budget, announced in November 2017, earmarked a massive 43.5% of total government expenditure to social development, including 17.1% for education.
Robocops are on the rise. The UAE’s plans to disrupt the country’s emergency response capability go much deeper than the recent announcement to kit out Dubai’s police with traffic-besting hover bikes. Dubai also this year piloted a robotic policeman capable of issuing fines, feeding video back to base and identifying people through facial recognition; a first move in a strategy that will see 25% of all positions taken up by robots by 2030. Elsewhere, in a bid to overcome the challenges faced by conventional fire engines when tackling blazes in tall buildings, the next time you see a firefighter in Dubai they could be using a jet pack.
Online shopping bridges the Gulf. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a country with the world’s biggest shopping mall, the UAE is also home to the region’s best-known home-grown internet brand. Recently acquired by Amazon for $580 million, souq.com is pushing into new markets such as Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, in a bid to retain local e-commerce’s leadership position and attract further foreign investment, the country has just inaugurated the MENA region’s first free zone aimed at digital trade.
Dubai 3D-printed an entire office building. Claiming to be a world first, the 2,700 square foot building took only 17 days and 18 people to build, half as many people as a conventional building of the same proportions would require. Currently the home of the Dubai Future Foundation, the open-plan space will likely soon be used to house exhibitions, workshops and other events.
It's also the world’s first blockchain city. The emirate has spent much of 2017 setting up pilot projects to assess the extent to which blockchain can be leveraged to transform the delivery of government services. Obvious candidates for early adoption of the distributed ledger technology are visa applications, bill payments, licence renewals, health records and property transactions. Meanwhile, a parallel effort has been launched to use accelerators and competitions to encourage the private sector to get on board fast.