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Today, we are witnessing a revolution that establishes a knowledge-based future as the major driver of economic growth and the well-being of nations.

The transition to a knowledge-based society has become necessary to create success; in fact, knowledge will become an advantage in securing the prosperity of one country over another. In terms of this revolution, knowledge progress cannot be achieved without serious investment in the technological foundations, as well as human capital.

This is particularly the case in light of the growing importance of knowledge as humanity enters the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), which will not be limited to industry, and will extend to all aspects of our personal, social, cultural and environmental lives.

The UAE’s focus on building the foundations of knowledge has been evident since its establishment. The vision of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, on the importance of building future knowledge, is still in our minds

- Dr Jamal Sanad Al Suwaidi

The knowledge revolution will largely depend on the ability of governments, organisations and individuals to utilise technology to create value that adds to their intellectual capital.

Success will also depend on our ability to harness forms of knowledge that help realise practical solutions for environments that are more inclusive, prosperous and secure. The best example of this can be seen today as we maximise technological tools for distance learning and working from home amid the global crisis brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The upcoming knowledge revolution will make our systems and societies smarter, but will be especially challenging for individuals seeking to successfully transition to the new variety of jobs that will be required in the future.

Here, the role of learning and education is emphasised in encouraging future generations to innovate and create knowledge, and to contribute to research and development efforts to meet the expanding needs of humanity. This future cannot be achieved without transitioning to knowledge production through advanced technologies.

Consequently, governments will have to accept the challenge of keeping pace with accelerated technological progress, investing in its elements to create new knowledge and to advance among nations. Without this, they will be forced to rely on established knowledge they already possess, retreating into the darkness of underdevelopment and oblivion.

Role of technology

Artificial Intelligence (AI), big data, the internet of Things (IoT), hyper communication, and other advanced technologies have enabled the attainment of unprecedented levels of knowledge.

However, the reality of the upcoming knowledge revolution is that it emerges as a product of the interactions between machines, and between machines and humans. At some point, in the years to come, smart machines will transcend human capabilities in forming, acquiring and applying the practical knowledge of human civilisation.

Within this scenario, the human role remains distinguished by what is referred to as ‘tacit knowledge’, which will be the key to innovation and will require specific capabilities to work with ideas and bring them to life, through research and analytical skills, as well as strengths in perception and development.

A review of the history of scientific progress reveals the increasing and accelerated role of technology in the formation of knowledge, especially since the mid-twentieth century.

Using ‘positive technology’ for the greater good
Technologies are interdependent and multi-purpose, and form the foundations of innovation and production Image Credit: Supplied

This was reiterated by the American philosopher Richard Fuller in his influential book Critical Path (1982) in which he presents the theory of ‘the knowledge doubling curve’. He points out that until 1900, human knowledge doubled almost every century. By the end of World War II, knowledge doubled every twenty-five years.

However, measuring the growth of knowledge based on the same approach today is not easy, and will be more complex in the future. Each branch of knowledge has a different rate of growth; for example, nanotechnology knowledge doubles every twenty-four months, while that rate is approximately eighteen months in medical and health knowledge.

Pace of technology

On average, knowledge in all fields now doubles every thirteen months. With the knowledge revolution, IBM estimates that the integration of AI with other technologies, such as the internet of Things, will see knowledge double every twelve hours.

These are impressive levels by any measure, and will definitely require the interaction of smart machines with other existing technologies to absorb, analyse and harness all aspects of this vast amount of acquired knowledge.

In general, the world relies mainly on six technological tracks to generate the momentum of the knowledge revolution, namely microelectronics that form the foundations of information technology; advanced material technology, such as graphene, polymers, superconducting materials, etc; biotechnologies, especially in genetics and vaccines; space technologies, particularly propulsion systems; energy technologies, and nanotechnology.

All of these technologies are interdependent and multi-purpose, and form the foundations of innovation and production.

Importance of investing in knowledge revolution

Investing in knowledge requires a bold approach that is free from the constraints of stereotypes, with a long-term commitment that serves as a continuous driving force to stimulate competitive, innovative environments that are successfully aligned with successive technological changes.

Looking back in time a little, the internet and technology giants of Silicon Valley were the first to make bold and decisive contributions that transformed the world into a knowledge-based economy. Even though they started out as very small, entrepreneurial projects, most are still very successful today, with the value of some exceeding one trillion US dollars.

The main reason for the success of these companies is their adoption of a culture of innovation, as well as their constant readiness to challenge traditional business models, and sometimes make painful changes to keep pace with rapid knowledge developments. These companies also realised early on that they could not, and should not, do everything themselves.

Therefore, they invested heavily in other technology start-ups, in a way that allowed them to combine knowledge gains, to consistently succeed in keeping pace with market transformations and the changing needs of consumers.

Encouraging researchers

Let’s look at another example. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States, founded in 1861, remains a pioneer in encouraging researchers and innovators to cross traditional institutional boundaries and go beyond the limits of their specialisations to work on investment projects with the private sector and other leading research institutions.

This has resulted in thousands of partnerships that have contributed significantly to building a strong and distinctive knowledge-based economy for the United States.

More than 800 companies are currently working with MIT’s researchers, and the research sponsored directly by the industry is valued at $180 million, or 23 per cent of MIT’s total scientific research expenses in 2019. In the same year, MIT applied for around 430 new patents, and twenty-five leading companies were formed using MIT’s intellectual property.

In return, MIT has received approximately $34 million in revenue from licenses to use its patents and intellectual property rights in products. These figures reflect a clear strategy aimed at investing in scientific research, to create knowledge and harness it for progress and growth.

Indeed, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) asserts that one third of the productivity gap can be attributed to a lack of investment in human capital based on science and knowledge, which is responsible for the production of so-called intangible assets.

These intangible assets include a wide range of different knowledge products, such as intellectual property, patents, innovations, brands, creative products, software, technical solutions and designs.

Therefore, the best investment we can make in knowledge is in education, to create individuals whose importance increases every day as sources of productivity and economic growth.

Investing in human capabilities, in addition to modern technologies, will be a top priority in the future. Finding ways to provide people with innovative skills, and staying abreast of accelerating technological transformations, will be a dilemma for many vital sectors.

For this reason and others, many countries are focusing on promoting digital literacy within their workforce, combined with a high priority on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education strategies, which collectively constitute the most valuable human capital and are at the epicentre of the knowledge revolution.

This approach has the potential to contribute to the creation and absorption of all forms of advanced knowledge in the future.

UAE’s early recognition of technology

The UAE’s focus on building the foundations of knowledge has been evident since its establishment. The vision of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, on the importance of building future knowledge, is still in our minds.

He said: “Educating people is a great wealth that we cherish, as education is a wealth from which we build the future on a scientific basis.” Indeed, education is the cradle of knowledge, through which the complexities of the future are explored, and through which societies advance and develop.

Under the leadership of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE, and following the same strategy of the Founding Father and his brothers, the founders of the Union, the UAE has made great achievements in knowledge that have surpassed countries with a longer history and greater resources.

This is clearly evident in the UAE’s unique model, based on welcoming knowledge, employing and investing in it. The nation also strives to empower individuals to harness that knowledge through creativity and critical thinking skills gained in advanced learning and training.

The UAE model encourages institutions to take calculated risks as a way to create and develop outstanding new areas of knowledge.

Mohamed bin Zayed Majlis for Future Generations

This approach was affirmed by His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, when he said during a speech delivered at the Mohamed bin Zayed Majlis for Future Generations in March 2017: “We want our children and students to learn the best technologies in the world. We have no choice but to rely on quality.

Our real weapon is knowledge. Our ambition is to compete with the world’s advanced nations, such as Finland, New Zealand, South Korea and Singapore that have achieved success in human development, education and the economy.”

Undoubtedly, this shows the wisdom of the UAE leadership’s far-sighted vision. It underlines that the UAE does not wait for the future; rather, it has chosen to invest now in human capital and advanced sciences, to ensure success in the knowledge revolution, which is the foundation for addressing tomorrow’s challenges.

The UAE’s successful knowledge development was highlighted when it topped Arab countries in the Global Innovation Index 2019, in which it jumped to a ranking of 36th worldwide.

Innovation, in particular, is considered one of the most important aspects of the knowledge revolution, as nations compete through innovation to advance in areas of science, education and technological capabilities. According to a 2019 report issued by global audit and advisory service firm KPMG, the UAE ranked fifth globally in the Readiness for Change index.

This important index highlights the results of country’s policies associated with flexibility in response and preparedness to bring about major transformations. It also evaluates their effectiveness in responding to challenges, as well as capitalising on them to build sustainable and competitive knowledge-based economies.

The best evidence of the level the UAE has reached in terms of innovation is seen in the advanced technological solutions it has recently developed to address the implications of the coronavirus pandemic.

For example, Abu Dhabi Stem Cells Centre announced the development of an advanced technique that supports treating coronavirus cases. It is considered one of the first techniques of its kind worldwide.

Moreover, a system based on laser technology and advanced Artificial Intelligence has also been recently developed in the UAE, which enables mass screening with results available in seconds, representing a qualitative breakthrough in stopping the spread of the virus.

These innovations, along with many others, clearly demonstrate the level of scientific progress the UAE has achieved, and its great capabilities in employing advanced knowledge to tackle the most difficult challenges.

The UAE takes the lead globally in pioneering knowledge leadership, based on innovation and technology. In 2017, the world’s first Artificial Intelligence Ministry was established in the UAE.

It was also the first country in the world to release a national Artificial Intelligence strategy, announced in 2017 by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

The UAE also took pride in launching an advanced innovation strategy in 2018 — the first strategy of its kind — as well as an advanced strategy for digital transactions (Blockchain) in 2018. These steps, in addition to several other strategies, pave the way for the UAE to steadfastly enter the knowledge revolution.

As education is considered the cornerstone of knowledge progress, the UAE government places great priority on introducing advanced technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence, into curricula; the UAE is set to become one of the first countries in the world to teach these topics by 2021.

Its focus on advanced education is also apparent and embodied in the establishment of the world’s first university for Artificial Intelligence, which has the honour of bearing the name of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

This contributes to realising His Highness’ ideas, which aim to develop human capital through scientific thinking and knowledge, as a tool for social progress to guide the UAE toward a bright future.

— Dr Jamal Sanad Al Suwaidi is a UAE author and director-general of the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research.