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Future mobility, skills, entrepreneurs, and mindsets, as well as AI, data analytics, and IoT were in the spotlight at the youth-oriented Generation Future conference that concluded on Saturday in the UAE as part of the Global Manufacturing and Industrialisation Summit (GMIS) Week.
Dedicated to empowering the new generation to make its mark in industries of the future and sustainable development, the event aimed to advance knowledge transfer and skills development, and facilitate connections between youth and industry experts.
Taking place from November 26 to 27, Generation Future offered a series of masterclasses and workshops by partners from the public and private sectors as well as academia. The agenda on the second day included sessions hosted by Dubai Future Foundation (DFF), Mubadala, General Motors (GM), G42, SAP, Accenture, and Schneider Electric.
In a two-part masterclass ‘The Future Is Now’, Monica Hernandez Alarcon, director of Human Resources at GM AMEO, highlighted GM’s approach to talent management with a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion – factors that influence performance, motivation, and culture. She defined culture as “what you do when nobody’s watching”.
Alarcon was proud to note that in 2013, GM appointed its first female Chairman and CEO, Mary Barra, who joined the company as a student and rose through the ranks to the top, breaking many a glass ceiling on the way.
She went on to discuss the ways in which an inclusive company behaves, including committing to inclusion, condemning intolerance, and standing up against injustice.
Alarcon concluded her part of the session with her favourite quote by US publisher Malcolm Forbes, “Diversity is the art of thinking independently together.”
In the second part of the session, dedicated to future mobility, Gary West, managing director – Future Mobility & OnStar Middle East at GM AMEO, shared some disturbing statistics. He warned that by 2030, $300 million will be wasted in congestion in the US. He also pointed out that traffic accidents cause 1.3 million fatalities each year, with 13,000 in the GCC region.
Meanwhile, 85 per cent of vehicles on the urban commute have only one occupant, and an average car sits idle 95% of the time. Alarmingly, 2020 reported record-high levels of CO2 in the atmosphere – 419 parts per million (ppm).
West went on to introduce the three pillars of GM’s vision – zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion – and expressed his belief that technology can help the company reach its goals.
GM’s objectives align with Dubai leadership’s ambitions for the future of mobility in the emirate. In 2016, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, announced a plan to make 25 per cent of transportation trips in Dubai smart, sustainable, and driverless by 2030.
Elaborating on the company’s business model, West said: “We put the customer in the centre of everything we do, and we’re changing the way we do business now – not in the future.”
He noted that GM is investing $35 billion by 2025 in innovation in the areas of electrification, autonomous driving, and connectivity.
West spoke about the company’s intention to launch its trailblazing in-car safety and security service OnStar in the UAE on National Day in collaboration with Dubai Police, Abu Dhabi Police, and Etisalat.
He added that currently, there are 7.2 million electric vehicles (EVs) on the road. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) predicts that this number will rise to 240 million by 2040.
GM wants to be net zero by 2040, and to achieve this target, it aims to deliver a broad EV portfolio that will drive consumer adoption. Earlier this week in Dubai, the company unveiled a strategy to bring 13 new EV models to the Middle East, including a 1,000-HP Hummer, by 2025. In addition, it signed an agreement with the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) to purchase 4,000 Cruise Origin self-driving vehicles, with the first batch set to hit Dubai’s roads in 2023. The company is also eyeing a partnership with Emirates Post Group to provide EVs for its delivery fleet.
Next on the agenda was a session on ‘Fundamentals of Artificial Intelligence’, headlined by Dr Boulbaba Ben Amor, senior scientist at the Inception Institute of Artificial Intelligence (IIAI), the AI arm of G42.
Explaining what IIAI does, he said: “Our main goal is to extract knowledge from data. In our daily work, we deal with a variety of data that can be collected and modelled. We push the boundaries of AI to solve problems in a way which we consider smart.”
Dr Ben Amor outlined the progression from the origins of AI in the 1950s to machine learning in the 1980s and deep learning in the 2010. Machine learning allows computer programs to automatically improve through experience, while deep learning is the ability to adapt through repetitive training to uncover hidden patterns and insights.
He said: “Today’s AI revolution is based on deep neural networks – mathematical models of the biological neural networks in our brains that serve as a kind of processing units through which data travels.”
AI is commonly applied in image and video analysis, where it enables object identification and tracking as well as semantic segmentation and depth estimation – particularly useful in autonomous vehicles, where AI-powered computer vision serves as ‘the eyes of the car’. Another field where AI plays an important role is healthcare, where it is used in medical imaging for separating individual organs and identifying abnormalities, as well as in molecular modelling, which is vital in studying the variants of the coronavirus.
Dr Ben Amor said: “In the research community, we are still discovering the capabilities of AI. The key points are that deep neural networks are able to approximate any function, and you can design neural networks to solve even very complex problems. I cannot think of an industry that AI won’t transform in the next several years.”
In a session entitled ‘Skills for the Future’, Fathi Finaish, aerospace specialist at Mubadala, emphasised the difference between past and future skills.
He said: “Because of these times of rapid change, it’s difficult to predict what skills we will need for the future to succeed. Careers used to be linear and easier to predict. But today, you will have several jobs in your career, you will have multiple paths, your career won’t be as structured. Employment will be highly competitive, but the jobs will be there.”
He added: “The three critical skills you need are learning, adaptation, and innovation. You have to question your assumptions and be prepared to unlearn things too.”
A session on Data Analytics and IoT saw Huda Hammoud, data engineering consultant at Accenture Middle East, highlight the value of data for business success, noting that organisations today are continuously flooded with large amounts of data, but they often don’t know how to make the most of it.
She said: “We need to be ready for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Data and analytics can bring key benefits to individuals and businesses. It can cut business costs by as much as 20%. We know the importance of data. But how do we utilise it?”
In a session called ‘Entrepreneurs of the Future’, Asma Shabab, senior manager – Innovation Consulting at Accenture Middle East, outlined the challenges facing today’s entrepreneurs.
She said: “As an entrepreneur, it’s not just about creating the next best thing. Entrepreneurs now have a lot of weight they carry on their shoulders. Not only do they need to take advantage of opportunities, but they also need to do it with sustainability and a purpose. What are you contributing to the community? That’s a huge baggage that previous entrepreneurs never had.”
Offering a glimpse into the future of jobs, she added: “60 per cent of the jobs today will not exist in 10 years’ time. That is a major consideration for entrepreneurs. They need to know how to future-proof their organisations and ensure they have the right skills in place.”
During a session on ‘Skills of the Future’, Wissam Kadi, global initiatives director at SAP, provided an overview of the company’s latest skills development initiatives in the UAE, such as the SAP Young Thinkers Learning Festival, SAP Learning Hub, SAP Next-Gen Labs, SAP University Alliances, and several university capstone projects.
He said: “Our objective is to inspire youth about digital education and digital skills. To achieve this, we think it is important to raise awareness about the need to continue our education to keep up with the attributes of the age we are living in – VUCA: volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.”
Kadi introduced SAP’s Learn to Learn programme that focuses on identifying and developing the skills needed to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These include cognitive skills, communication, mental flexibility, social skills, self-awareness and self-leadership, teamwork, digital fluency and citizenship, software use and development, and inclusive leadership.
Another instalment of ‘Skills of the Future’ revolved around the role of youth in organisations in the future. Speaking at the session, Alex Malouf, corporate communications director at Schneider Electric MEA, predicted that young people will drive change through technology.
He said: “What we’re seeing among Generation Z is the idea of purpose. Young people really care about purpose. It’s not about how much money they’re making. It’s about why they are doing this job.”
He added: “Learning is shifting. As industries change, we can change along with them. We don’t need to be in the same area through our careers. Learning is going to increasingly be online.”
In closing, he said: “COVID has been a huge accelerator of technology adoption. Ten to 20 years of progress have happened in two years. Everything is built around technology. Increasingly, we’ll see technology driving sustainability.”
The final session of the day saw Asma Al Hamed, capacity building specialist at Dubai Future Foundation (DFF), take a detailed look at ‘Mindset of the Future’. She said: “Embracing change has always been part of the UAE’s DNA. We need to consider one thing: Our decision and actions will affect the future; also, the way we imagine the future will affect the way we shape the future.”
She added: “We need three things to cope with the changes the future carries – perspective, attitude, and skills. We need to embrace risks, and continue learning and updating our knowledge and skills.”
She noted that active skills, including planetary living, complexity, creativity, and empathy, are the most important in cultivating a future mindset because they help people overcome future challenges, such as migration, overuse of natural resources, path dependency, and globalisation.
She said: “We must embrace the concept of biomimicry that enables us to get inspiration from nature in improving processes and enhancing ecosystems, making them more future-ready. We are surrounded with many sources of inspiration, but we need to develop our lenses to learn from them.”
In closing, she explained the concept of the Johari Window, a technique for uncovering the blind spots in people’s future perspectives.
The GMIS Week ran from November 22 to 27 at Expo’s Dubai Exhibition Centre. The platform also included #GMIS2021, The Green Chain Conference, The Global Prosperity Conference, country-focused conferences in partnership with the UK, Australia, Italy, and the United Arab Emirates, and a six-day manufacturing and advanced technology exhibition showcasing some of the UAE’s most innovative capabilities.
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