One point that the Covid-19 pandemic drove home more than any other was that ideas and innovation in science and technology can catalyze the transformation of our economy needs, delivering productivity and growth, new jobs, and wider socioeconomic benefits of research, development, and commercialization of inventions. That R&D can significantly raise the level of public health, safety, and security across the country was not left to anyone’s guess.
Yet, the UAE did not have to wait for the pandemic to realize the urgency of a tech revolution to meet future socioeconomic targets. In 2017, the Emirates created its own ministry for AI to become an early adopter of the technology and eventually a net exporter of AI capabilities. Meanwhile, investments in incubators and accelerators have been promoting AI, machine learning, internet of things, and block-chain applications; small and medium-sized enterprises are being encouraged to take risks in this sphere.
All this has been happening within a rapidly developing ecosystem. Two years ago, Abu Dhabi saw the establishment of the Advanced Technology Research Council, ATRC, that would accelerate R&D and create opportunities to anticipate and solve tomorrow’s challenges in domains as diverse as food and agriculture, health care, sustainable energy, aerospace and space, safety and security, and transportation.
It further set up two entities to give shape to its aspirations, namely the Technology Innovation Institute (TII) and ASPIRE. A global research center dedicated to pushing the frontiers of knowledge, TII’s mission is to not just to prepare for the future but to create it through its research centers, which are dedicated to advanced materials, autonomous robotics, cryptography, digital technology, directed energy, quantum information science, and secure systems. ASPIRE focuses on identifying problems in six sectors that can be solved by TII> They are also funding competitions that will lead to pioneering advances. A third entity called VentureOne was recently announced, which supports the commercialization of TII’s innovations.
Moreover, technology is the new oil and refining it is big business the world over. New and emerging technologies represent a $350 billion market, which by 2025 could grow to over $3.2 trillion, according to UNCTAD’s Technology and Innovation Report 2021, which outlines how developing countries can benefit from the current technological revolution to reduce gaps that hold back inclusive and sustainable development.
With all its sustained initiatives, the UAE is well positioned to ride a surging technology wave, thanks to its future-readiness as it mobilizes investment in technology infrastructure and research, builds workforce skills, and develops ethical frameworks and guidelines for industry 4.0 technologies.