Time to transform: exploring the AI readiness of UAE and Japan

By on 09/08/2023 | Updated on 16/08/2023
HE Mohammed Bin Taliah: “AI may eliminate some jobs, but it will create others.”

At the Global Government Summit in Singapore, civil service leaders from 16 countries met to explore five of the biggest challenges facing their countries – debating in the fourth session the breakneck rise of AI technologies. Here we present some of the contributions from the UAE’s chief of government services and Japan’s civil service personnel commissioner

“In the past, reading and writing was in the hands of the elite, and nobody saw that it was necessary for others to know how to read and write,” said HE Mohammed Bin Taliah, chief of government services at the United Arab Emirates (UAE). “This is what has been happening in the past few years with artificial intelligence: everybody thought it was something for the IT experts only, and that the rest don’t need to understand it. But we believe that literacy in AI should be disseminated across the community, because it’s going to be an integral part of our lives in the near future.”

Heads of civil services, including those gathered at the Global Government Summit, certainly require that “AI literacy”: it is their responsibility to consider not only how AI could and should be used inside government bodies, but also how these technologies are likely to affect wider societies and economies – reshaping the policy challenges facing them.

Handle with care

“AI will bring a number of great benefits to society, but its large impact necessitates appropriate development and implementation,” commented Katsura Ito, the commissioner of Japan’s National Personnel Authority. “We should promote, together with the continued research and development of technologies related to AI, a transformation towards an AI-ready society.”

Focusing on “human-centric AI,” explained Ito, Japan is developing a set of social and environmental goals. These cover ethical issues, ensuring respect for human dignity, diversity and sustainability; map out the social, industrial and governance structures required to “ensure that the negative aspects of AI are avoided or reduced”; and establish a set of social principles, covering topics such as privacy, security, equity, transparency and fair competition. Alongside these, the government is developing guidelines to shape AI’s development and deployment. “Japan should share these principles not only within the government, but also with related industries and organisations; and they should be reflected in government policies,” said Ito.

Katsura Ito: “We should promote… a transformation towards an AI-ready society.”

Meanwhile, the UAE has been moving forward rapidly on AI – both promoting the development of AI industries, and adopting these technologies in government. After outlining his country’s ambitions, Bin Taliah was asked about some of the issues worrying civil service leaders.

Lessons for teachers

How, one participant asked, can educators prevent students from using AI to cheat in assessments? Technologies have always changed the ways in which people learn and are tested, he replied: decades ago, “the advent of online search engines revolutionised information retrieval, significantly diminishing the frequency of library visits. This shift towards online platforms empowered people to access information conveniently”.

In response to the emergence of Google and other search engines, Bin Taliah argued, students had “to acquire new proficiencies, discerning reliable sources from unreliable ones”. Meanwhile, lecturers had to understand the new risks of plagiarism: “Educators have been compelled to adapt their assessment methods and employ advanced tools to combat this issue.”

Overall, he commented, “this transformative change has not compromised the quality of education”. Similarly, students and educators must now adapt to the specific threats and opportunities presented by AI: “Educators now face the imperative task of exploring innovative approaches to effectively navigate the benefits and risks of artificial intelligence with the upcoming generation of students,” he said.

Transformation, not elimination

Asked about the risk of mass job losses, Bin Taliah argued that “throughout the course of each industrial revolution, the nature of employment has undergone transformation rather than outright elimination”. In agriculture, for example, “the labour-intensive practices of yesteryear have been replaced by mechanisation, such as the utilisation of tractors. This technological advancement has resulted in significantly enhanced productivity”. Following the mechanisation of agriculture, fewer people worked on the land – but food was much cheaper and poverty far less widespread.

AI will affect different forms of jobs, Bin Taliah said – but the overall outcome will be similar. “In the legal profession, for instance, AI enables lawyers to effectively manage an increased number of cases while simultaneously delivering improved outcomes,” he commented.

In the UAE, AI systems are now being used to spot people using their mobile phones while driving. “This technological solution allows law enforcement officers to redirect their attention towards other criminal activities,” Bin Taliah said. “By harnessing the capabilities of AI, police officers can allocate their efforts more efficiently, delegating tasks that can be effectively handled by AI algorithms”. Some kinds of jobs may be impacted by the adoption of AI, he acknowledged, but the emerging technology will also open up new employment opportunities.

Special circumstances

Implementing a strategy to attract AI investments, establish the UAE as an R&D centre, cultivate a highly-skilled workforce, facilitate the provision of relevant infrastructure and nurture AI industries, the UAE aspires to become a primary hub for job creation in the AI sector. Indeed, the country’s unique position leaves it well positioned to reap the rewards of AI.

It is, however, worth pointing out that the UAE is also well placed to avoid the disbenefits of AI technologies. Only about 1.4 million of the UAE’s 10 million people are citizens, the others comprising immigrants granted visas to live and work there. The sheikhs who control government can thus reshape their workforce as they choose – sending those with outdated skills back to their homelands, while inviting in AI specialists from around the world.  

So the UAE need not worry about how to safeguard the livelihoods of those rendered redundant by AI. Most countries, however, will have to wrestle with that challenge. As they do so, they may find a sensible starting point in Japan’s focus on “human-centric AI” and an “AI-ready society”.

The Global Government Summit is a private event, providing a safe space at which civil service leaders can debate the challenges they face in common. We publish these reports to share some of their thinking with our readers, this year focusing in each report on the main messages of one or more contributors. Note that, to ensure that participants feel able to speak freely at the Summit, we give all those quoted the right to anonymise or edit their comments before publication.

This is the fourth of five reports, covering the session on artificial intelligence. The first focused on how to protect living standards in an era of conflict and inflation; the second on leadership and delivery in the post-pandemic world; the third on public health and resilience; and the fifth on building public trust in government.

About Matt Ross

Matt is Global Government Forum's Contributing Editor, providing direction and support on topics, products and audience interests across GGF’s editorial, events and research operations. He has been a journalist and editor since 1995, beginning in motoring and travel journalism – and combining the two in a 30-month, 30-country 4x4 expedition funded by magazine photo-journalism. Between 2002 and 2008 he was Features Editor of Haymarket news magazine Regeneration & Renewal, covering urban regeneration, economic growth and community development; and from 2008 to 2014 he was the Editor of UK magazine and website Civil Service World, then Editorial Director for Public Sector – both at political publishing house Dods. He has also worked as Director of Communications at think tank the Institute for Government.

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