Dubai: Artificial intelligence (AI) is not the answer to everything, according to the UAE’s minister of state for AI.
Behind the hype of the technology, AI remained a tool for both good and bad, minister Omar Sultan Al Olama said on Wednesday.
“People think AI is the answer to everything,” Al Olama told Gulf News in an interview during the AI Everything summit in Dubai. “It is not the answer to everything.”
The technology is a tool, Al Olama continued, used to increase efficiency, productivity, and to ensure that less resources are being used to achieve the desired goal.
“The hype is where, unfortunately, people don’t know why they’re using AI,” he said.
Al Olama, 29, was appointed as minister of state for AI following a cabinet reshuffle in October 2017.
Most people think it’s [AI} everything, I don’t think that’s the case... If you’re doing it without data....or without understanding the outcome, it won’t serve you in any way.
Under the minister, the UAE has unveiled its National Artificial Intelligence Strategy 2031, outlining eight points
“AI for the sake of AI … most people think it’s everything, I don’t think that’s the case,” he said.
“If you’re doing it without data,” he added, “or without understanding the outcome, it won’t serve you in any way. Being conscious of that is important.”
Al Olama argued that most of the world’s governments spent upwards of 80 per cent of their annual budgets on operational expenses, and just 20 per cent on investments in improving the country.
“What AI is going to do, is because of the efficiency savings, you’re going to save from that 80 per cent, and you’re going to be able to invest more in improving the work of government.”
Over the past two years, entrepreneur Elon Musk has regularly referred to AI as the single greatest threat to human life, calling it a technology that is as dangerous as nuclear weapons and likely to destroy mankind.
In response, Al Olama said that while he thought Musk was a “very smart person” who he didn’t want to go “head-to-head” against, there was a definition issue.
“What Elon is referring to is AGI, or artificial general intelligence. This is a technology that can’t be contained or controlled by humans,” he said.
This was something to be feared, Al Olama said, but was also a distant problem. “It might happen in 50 years, it might happen in 1,000 years.”
On the other hand, narrow AI was being used to diagnose disease, he said, which was incredibly beneficial.
But even narrow AI could have darker applications, Al Olama conceded.
“If you look at AI being used to create autonomous weapons, it’s scary. If a weapon can achieve its objective of killing a person very efficiently, it’s very scary for everyone.”
“Cars can be used as an ambulance, or they can be used to carry bombs to kill people. Every tool can be used for good or bad.”
The official argued that governments around the world had a responsibility to come together to establish an international treaty governing the use of such technology.
“The only thing that regulates whether a tool is used for good or bad is the policy put in place, and the acceptance of other governments of this policy or standard,” he said.
In China, the government has reportedly used AI to track and racially profile the Uighurs, a largely Muslim minority.
“We need to ensure a responsible deployment of AI,” Al Olama said, “so that we can leave a better world for our children and grandchildren.”
When asked whether the UAE government was considering using AI for surveillance, the minister said that the authorities had to balance privacy concerns with national security.
While the total number of surveillance cameras deployed globally is hard to estimate, a recent estimate suggested there were over 500,000 surveillance cameras in London, and more than 60 million in the US.
“So there is surveillance being done anyway. What people are fearing is optimised surveillance,” he added.
“This is the question that needs to be asked: What is the trade off?” Al Olama said, adding: “If the trade off is very minimal versus lots of safety and security, then maybe the public are going to accept it.”
However, if there was no increase in safety, and people simply felt like they had less privacy, “then there are issues there,” he continued.
Before deploying any new technologies, Al Olama said that his ministry was “doing a lot to understand where the lines are, and where are the value creation points that people are looking for.”
“For me, as a minister right now and with my portfolio, we have no ambitions to do this for the sake of surveillance. We’re going to do it if there’s a way for us to become the safest city on earth, and everyone can walk freely and enjoy it, then we’re going to explore it,” he concluded.