Healthcare is an ideal jumping-off point for AI, says top UAE academic

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Abu Dhabi - Eric Xing maintains the potential of AI is yet to be fully tapped by doctors

By Team KT

Published: Sun 4 Jul 2021, 7:06 PM

Healthcare is an "ideal jumping-off point for Artificial Intelligence (AI) because it generates so much data," said Professor Eric Xing, President of the Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI).

However, Professor Xing thinks that healthcare providers are yet to fully leverage their potential.

In an interview with the Emirates News Agency (WAM), Professor Xing said: "AI can help doctors derive more insights from clinical data to improve their understanding of their patients and make better decisions. Besides, unlike doctors, AI can analyse the data of millions of patients at once."

Professor Xing said that the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the potential of AI, as scientists were quick to leverage its power to research vaccines, monitor the spread of the pandemic, conduct contact tracing and more.

"We have prioritised AI and healthcare in our research at MBZUAI since inception," he added because of the "safe and responsible exercise".

He pointed out other areas ripe for AI research, including energy, which is a crucial industry for the Arabian Gulf region.

For example, he explained, AI can develop models that calculate the ideal pressure to achieve optimum oil recovery or predict when preventative maintenance is needed.

It can also obtain insights to help reduce carbon emissions, increase water and power efficiency, and manage other aspects of energy generation, shipment and transmission.

Responding to a question on how MBZUAI aligns with the UAE's national agenda and economic aspirations, Professor Xing said that MBZUAI is the realisation of the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and the Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, to create a hub for AI learning, research and development in the country that would help build and sustain a knowledge economy.

"The support we have received from the UAE leadership, government and the members of the Board of Trustees has allowed us to establish ourselves as a leading hub for AI in the region within a very short time, as seen by our growing body of cutting-edge research work," he added.

He said that by training an increasing number of AI professionals, they ensure that industry and public institutions have the people, skills and resources for the use of AI.

"We also held a series of expert-led webinars to build academic strength amongst the community," he said.

He added that MBZUAI Research Talks and MBZUAI AI Talks were attended by faculty members, students, and local engineers and hosted by faculty from both MBZUAI and other leading universities, such as Carnegie Mellon University, Max Plant Institute, and New York University Abu Dhabi, among others.

Attractive proposition for prospective learners

To attract the best regional and global talent, Professor Xing said they offer an attractive proposition for prospective learners, including fully paid scholarships, living allowances and other support structures for students.

"We also want to support UAE's innovation clusters and AI startups, aligned with Abu Dhabi's ambition to become a leading tech talent and innovation destination," he said.

He added that they have participated in activities organised by Hub71, the Abu Dhabi-based start-up ecosystem.

When asked about the focus areas of the research conducted at MBZUAI, Professor Eric Xing, said: "Our focus is to solve problems that exist as an open question so that we are ready with an answer when required.

"That means not chasing the wave but creating it. So, for example, no company commissioned the semiconductor – its invention was purely driven by innovation," he added.

"Then we want to train the right students. We want to train doers in AI and research to put what they have learnt into practice to generate the right impact. We also want to make the university a hub for innovation and startups to become an incubator for new ideas and entrepreneurship to take our research even further."

Creating a university dedicated to AI is a unique experiment, according to Professor Xing, who said that very few universities in the world specialise in a specific topic.

"The definition of a university comes from ancient Roman or Greek terminology, meaning universe. However, AI is a vast topic that is, by definition, interdisciplinary," he said.

He cited that AI touches every discipline, such as biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, all of which produce data.

"It’s a broad discipline that arguably deserves its university," he added.

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