Ajay Bhalla, President of Cyber and Intelligence Solutions at Mastercard Image Credit: Supplied

The UAE stands poised to harness the transformative potential of artificial intelligence and become a global leader in the space, according to Ajay Bhalla, President of Cyber and Intelligence Solutions at Mastercard.

Bhalla praised the UAE’s foresight in recognising the importance of AI during a visit to the region. In an exclusive question-and-answer session with Gulf News in Dubai, he said the UAE could “play a central role” around the emerging technology and its regulation.

The UAE’s Artificial Intelligence, Digital Economy and Remote Work Applications Office signed a MoU with Mastercard on August 24 to accelerate AI adoption across key sectors in the country.

The deal included the opening of a new global Centre for Advanced AI and Cyber Technology in Dubai.

The UAE was the first nation to establish an AI ministry in 2017 as part of the government’s plan to position itself as a pioneer in technology and artificial intelligence sectors.

“What attracted us was the UAE government’s vision for putting AI on the map in this country and their 2031 vision for AI. I was really impressed with the futuristic thinking and so we thought this is the place to partner with a government that likes new technology, and looks ahead,” he said.

The UAE becomes the fourth country in the world to have a Mastercard AI centre of this kind following the US, Canada and India.

As AI and other new technologies become more widely used around the world, Bhalla sees Dubai as the ideal place for its latest agreement.

“We have over 3 billion cardholders to think about around the world, but what makes this region unique is that it’s booming. It has high growth, good infrastructure and consumers are embracing technology very quickly. If you look at the 200 countries we are in around the world, the UAE ranks highly where people are embracing new tech.”

Fighting cybercrime

The government is now working closely with Mastercard to ensure the UAE is at the forefront of artificial intelligence implementation, while protecting the nation from all aspects of cybercrime.

“The idea is to bring all the research, technology and development that we use in AI to this part of the world. From our perspective, this centre will secure the digital ecosystem, cybersecurity and financial crime. So we will have dedicated teams here to focus on that, and I think we’ve made a very good start.”

Mastercard is acutely aware that early adoption of new technologies presents a number of challenges in terms of protecting its customers, with scammers using AI, among other new tech, to find new ways of committing cybercrimes.

“AI swiftly identifies attacks on banks using advanced algorithms. Our technologies then inform and proactively counteract,” says Bhalla. This approach has saved $35 billion globally against cyberthreats in the past three years, he adds.

“Our job is to ensure that we stay ahead of these people,” says Bhalla. “We’ve been rolling out new products to catch and keep crime to a minimum. We recently launched a new system that has the ability to automatically detect scams, like misleading emails or messages. Our tech can detect this and advise you not to transfer any funds into what is a fraudulent account.”

AI also amplifies transaction speed and safety for Mastercard’s 125 billion annual transactions, according to Bhalla. “AI processes transactions in milliseconds through algorithms woven into the transaction infrastructure.”

The new agreement and the AI Centre in Dubai will not only serve to tackle financial crime, but will focus on securing the digital ecosystem and driving inclusive growth in the UAE. It will also serve as a hub to nurture and hire local AI talent, including data engineers and data scientists, with a remit to accelerate AI innovation globally and service customers all around the world from the UAE.

AI spending

Spending on AI in the Middle East and Africa will jump to $3 billion this year — accounting for nearly 2 per cent of global AI spending of $151.4 billion, according to a report by International Data Corporation in April.

The region is expected to experience the fastest growth rate worldwide over the coming years, with the US-based research company predicting that Middle East and Africa AI spending will surge at a compound annual growth rate of 29.7 per cent to reach $6.4 billion in 2026.

Bhalla sees a bright future for humanity thanks to AI and says it will serve to enrich our lives. “AI is a life-changing technology that will bring productivity, efficiency and consumer choice because by combining all these new technologies together it makes your life better. If your car can automatically run on a road, pay for itself and your fridge can order its own groceries it’s going to lead to very high levels of convenience, as you’ll have that much more time to do other things.”