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World's first AI varsity in the UAE: Realising futuristic dreams

Filed on May 19, 2020
There is a huge and growing demand for people who have skills in the technologies for artificial intelligence

Now that the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) to solve business problems is accepted more than it's denied, companies are excited to begin implementation. The biggest impediment to AI implementation is finding skilled AI talent

The UAE has worked hard to earn its title as a futuristic nation. This can especially be seen in the effort it's been putting into AI in recent years. Two years ago, the nation ranked first in the Arab world when it comes to adopting AI in all aspects of life. After all, the country has a full-fledged AI strategy, an AI ministry, and a university entirely dedicated to the field. In the past few years, its officials have been focused on introducing AI technologies to the country, and it's been working well in its favour.

The UAE government has ambitious plans to become a major hub for developing AI-based tools, technologies and techniques that will help improve productivity and efficiency. While the world is committing investments, the UAE has drafted a smart strategy to become an AI hub - attract and invest in the next generation of talent who will lead the industries in the coming years.

In fact, the UAE has a clear strategy, AI Strategy 2031, and has appointed a Ministry of AI to oversee its goals and objectives. The strategy outlines the need for AI to be deployed across key sectors such as logistics, healthcare, education and so on. The overall objective of UAE's push towards AI is to transform the UAE economy to become transparent, paperless and automated.

Now, the world's first dedicated AI is located in the UAE and has received licensing and accreditation from the UAE's Commission for Academic Accreditation (CAA). This certifies that MBZUAI will provide the highest quality academic programmes to students, which will be recognised within the UAE as well as internationally.

The Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI), located in Abu Dhabi, will begin offering its first class in January 2021. The university offers graduate-level students a range of postgraduate degrees focusing on key components of the AI sector. These include Computer Vision, Machine Learning, and Natural Language Processing.

"We aim to provide students with world-class courses in an environment that exceeds expectations in order to attract the best talent from across the globe," said Dr Sultan Al Jaber, Minister of State and chairman of the board of trustees at MBZUAI.

Filling the skill gap
This most certainly will attract students from across the world who want to develop their career in AI. According to estimates by PwC, artificial intelligence is expected to contribute almost $16 trillion to the world's GDP by 2030, accounting to 14 per cent. One reason for the AI skills crisis is that academic and training programmes just can't keep up with the pace of innovation and new discoveries with AI. Not only do AI professionals need official training, they need on-the-job experience. Therefore, there aren't enough experienced AI professionals to step into the leadership roles required by organizations who are just beginning to adopt AI strategies into their operations.

This is where MBZUAI become the ideal choice for aspirants. The university will directly engage with industries to ensure the proper integration between the output of the university and the needs in the marketplace.

Research published earlier this year revealed that many UAE bosses fear their company's growth will be hampered by a skills gap in the country. The university will get support in the form of securing external financial aid, potential internships, training, and employment opportunities for the MBZUAI students.

The programmes include MScs and PhDs in Computer Vision, Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing. In a bid to make the programme appealing to students from across backgrounds, the programme listing states that "All admitted students are granted upon acceptance the privilege to complete their study with a full scholarship, including 100 per cent tuition, a monthly stipend and many more benefits."

Support for AI start-ups
While the UAE has always been an entrepreneurial melting pot with startups across all sectors bringing their ideas to fruition, AI has been an area of special focus for the government. The UAE sees this potential and is supporting a number of startups. Recently, the Abu Dhabi Department of Health signed a memorandum of understanding with, an artificial intelligence company, to develop AI healthcare solutions. Moreover, it also joined hands with Silicon Valley-headquartered Plug and Play to launch a healthcare accelerator in 2020.

University-business partnerships expand
In a parallel trend, many AI training programmes are taking the form of university-business partnerships. This is the case at the Dell Technologies HPC & AI Center of Excellence at the University of Pisa. In partnership with the Intel® AI Academy, the University of Pisa has offered workshops that cover topics like AI from the data centre to the edge, distributed deep learning with Nauta (an opensource, deep learning training platform), and distributed AI with the Ray Framework (a high performance distributed execution framework).

Combining university research and expertise, industrial demands, and the center's HPC capabilities, BioBeats - a University of Pisa spin-off start-up - uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to analyze users' heartbeats and create adaptive music. The company's Hear and Now app teaches breathing exercises that help users relax. The app is based on clinically validated stress-reducing and mindfulness practices.

In another example of a business-education partnership, Microsoft has teamed with global education provider General Assembly (GA) on an initiative focused on closing the skills gaps in the fields of AI, machine learning, data science, cloud and data engineering, and more. This initiative will create standards and credentials for AI skills, upskill and reskill 15,000 workers by 2022, and create a pool of AI talent for the global workforce.

As the digital world rushes forward, there is a huge and growing demand for people who have skills in the technologies for artificial intelligence. There simply aren't enough of these people in the workforce, and this skills gap is one of the big barriers to the development of AI-driven products and processes.

But - the good news - universities and educational programmes, along with their business partners, have stepped up and are working actively to help close this skills gap.

- Source: MBZUAI


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