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UAE Press: How Do We Make Sure AI Has Human Touch?

Artificial intelligence dominated much of the World Governments Summit (WGS) in Dubai this week, where many from the Time 100 list of influential AI figures were joined by eight Nobel Prize winners as well as numerous of heads of government and ministers, said a local English newspaper.

In an editorial, The National said, “The fact that discussions about AI, its effects and its future were so numerous may reflect how, as a global community, we are still grappling with the profound implications of this rolling technological revolution.”

Some of the contributions make clear the challenges ahead. At the Arab Fiscal Forum, a pre-summit event, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said 40 percent of jobs across the world would be exposed to AI in the next few years, a development she described as a “tsunami eating into labour markets”.

“Some jobs will disappear altogether; some jobs will no longer exist. Other jobs will be enhanced or diminished,” she added. “And we know that we can only take advantage of opportunities if we are ready for them.”

Indeed, this need for readiness characterises many discussions about AI, not just at the WGS. There is a sense that the technology will get faster, smarter and more ubiquitous. If AI continues to follow this trajectory – and it shows no sign of slowing down – what can be done to channel it in the right direction?

The editorial continued, “Again, the WSG provided an important platform for exploring these issues. In a discussion with Omar bin Sultan Al Olama, Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, Digital Economy, and Remote Work Applications, OpenAI co-founder Sam Altman suggested there needed to be an international compact to regulate AI.”

“We are going to need I believe some sort of global system, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency, for what happens to the world’s most powerful AI systems,” Altman said.

Although international consensus on regulating AI is desirable, achieving it is another thing entirely. In the meantime, national governments will have to step into the breach and develop policies and institutions that will allow AI to thrive but in a controlled way.

There are ways to achieve this: auditing AI systems for fairness and security; developing “sandboxes” for the safe testing of new technologies; and requiring tech companies to disclose how their systems work. Education is a vital part of this approach, something the UAE has already embraced – by opening the world’s first AI research university in Abu Dhabi in 2019.

In that vein, Jensen Huang, Head of the Nvidia Corporation, a US-based tech multinational, told the summit about what he called “sovereign AI” – national ownership over a country’s data and the intelligence it produces. Every government, Huang suggested, ought to have its own AI infrastructure to protect this “data sovereignty”.

There is also the persistent anxiety that AI is developing in a way that excludes human input. There are justifiable fears that people will lose their jobs to digital replacements, or that those without computing skills will be unable to compete in the labour market. Indeed, Georgieva was right when she said that “accessibility for everyone is very important in terms of labour market development and skills development for the new world of artificial intelligence”.

Nonetheless, fears of automation at the expense of the human element may be somewhat overhyped. Responding to suggestions that workers needed to specialise in computing, technology or AI training, Huang had this to say, “In fact, it’s almost exactly the opposite. It is our job to create computing technologies that nobody has to programme and that the programming language is human: everybody in the world is now a programmer – that is the miracle.”

"If it is in our power to make AI a technology that everyone can use, then we are genuinely entering a new paradigm. But there is a long way to go, especially if AI is not to merely replicate the existing inequalities and unequal access to opportunity that already characterises our world. This year’s WGS in Dubai is an important moment but many more such conversations will need to take place in the years ahead,” the Abu Dhabi-based daily concluded.

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