Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi (centre), Chairperson of the SBA, presiding over the meeting
Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi (centre), Chairperson of the SBA, presiding over the meeting Image Credit: Supplied

Sharjah: The Sharjah Book Authority (SBA)’s newly formed board of directors had their first meeting on the sidelines of the ongoing 42nd edition of the Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF), to discuss a roadmap for making the authority’s initiatives more impactful in advancing the development of the publishing ecosystem in the UAE and beyond.

Welcoming the board members, Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi, Chairperson of the SBA, expressed her gratitude towards the exemplary vision of His Highness Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, that led to the creation of the SBA to “enhance investment in creative industries, to provide a platform for knowledge and intellectual exchange between different nations and cultures, and facilitate the creation of a knowledge-based society”.

She added: “Today, we feel that SBA is ready to go to the next level; a level where it can have a greater positive impact and contribute more to the development of the book industry in Sharjah, the region, and globally.”

Sheikha Bodour invited the board members to leverage their expertise, networks while offering guidance to navigate this new transformation and enabling SBA to become one of the leading global organisations in the book industry.

International Board members attending the meeting included John Ingram, Chairman of Ingram Content Group; Youngsuk ‘YS’ Chi, Chairman of Elsevier; Markus Dohle, Executive Vice President of the PEN America Board of Trustees; and Gaurav Shrinagesh, CEO India and South East Asia and Member Global Executive Committee, Penguin Random House.

The local members present were Ahmed bin Rakkad Al Ameri, CEO of SBA; Sheikh Majid Al Mualla, Emirates Airlines Divisional Senior Vice-President (DSVP) for International Affairs; Abdulaziz Taryam, CEO, Advisor and General Manager of (Etisalat e&) Northern Emirates; Abdulla Al Owais, Chair of the Department of Culture; Abdulaziz Al Musallam, Chairman of the Sharjah Institute for Heritage; Rashid Al Kous, Executive Director of the Emirates Publishers Association (EPA); Marwa Al Aqroubi, Executive Director of the House of Wisdom and President of the UAE Board on Books for Young People (UAEBBY). Giving a detailed presentation to the assembled board, Al Ameri, SBA CEO, provided insight into SBA’s nine-year journey, highlighting how SBA’s work has strengthened Sharjah’s cultural contribution to the UAE and the world.

In response to the vision of Sheikh Sultan, he shared details of SBA’s strategic initiatives, conferences, events, projects, and awards that have created and supported the culture of reading in the UAE, and contributed to Sharjah’s mission to become a knowledge-based society, while empowering international exchange through the power of the written word.

Al Ameri also demonstrated the increasing economic impact of the projects SBA has implemented, stating that from 2019-2022, as SBA and the Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) has grown in stature, contributions to the local economy and national GDP have also increased as indicated by the growth in direct spending on printing, publishing, writing activities as well as indirect spending on hotel stays, restaurants, transportation and advertising.

The meeting concluded with a strategy workshop and a roadmap discussion, followed by a tour of the SBA facility.

15 cultural projects

Sharjah Book Authority (SBA) designs and executes a major share of Sharjah’s book-publishing programme. The Authority has nine entities under its umbrella managing about 15 cultural projects, from specialised conferences to book fairs, a reading festival to different Awards aimed at encouraging and supporting writers, publishers, illustrators and more.

SBA’s initiatives such as the Sharjah Publishers Conference, the Booksellers Conference, the Sharjah Rights Connections Award, the Sharjah Publishing City Free Zone (SPC Free Zone), Lightning Source Sharjah, Sharjah Literary Agency, and many others are “adding value to the publishing ecosystem by creating a cultural and business bridge” between Sharjah and all major publishing hubs around the world.

SIBF highlights

Ethics and AI

An internationally acclaimed journalist and an Artificial Intelligence (AI) instructor got together on Saturday at SIBF to discuss the advancements in AI and how it is quickly shaping the modern world.

The Washington Post columnist Taylor Lorenz and AI researcher Yasmin AlRawi spoke at length about AI, fake news and social media, blockchain technology and the emergence of Web 3.0 while examining the ethical implications of these developments as part of a panel discussion moderated by Alya Al Mansoori.

(from left) Taylor Lorenz, Yasmin AlRawi, and Alya Al Mansoori Image Credit: Supplied

Delving deep into the multifaceted aspects of AI and technology and exploring the potential benefits and risks they pose to individuals, society, and the environment, AlRawi said: “Whilst we try to create [AI] creatures that will make our jobs faster than we can imagine, we also need to build generations that are able to navigate their way through this journey. Our role is to build generations that will be capable of containing this huge wave of change coming ahead of us”.

Talking about changes in the content creation industry in recent times, Lorenz – who has widely covered internet culture as a journalist for publications like The Daily Mail, New York Times and Business Insider – said: “I just wrote a book about this shift from how people get their news and information today, and it’s increasingly from individuals on YouTube, TikTok and the likes. Most of today’s consumers of news are circumventing the traditional media – from getting information about celebrities on Instagram to seeing breaking news on these platforms”.

“All of it has really accelerated over the past five years, and now, of course, with AI, it’s going to accelerate even more,” said the American journalist, who in 2020 secured a book deal for Extremely Online: The Untold Story of Fame, Power and Influence on the Internet that was released by Simon & Schuster last month.

When asked if our brains would function better with AI and whether our relationships will be affected, the New York resident said the emerging tech will help outsource a lot of our “mundane and tedious tasks” to make our lives a little bit easier. “And it doesn’t really take away anything from our humanity,” she added.

“But I do think that it’s going to be shaping our interpersonal relationships. Already, a lot of influencers have these chatbots that mimic them that you can talk to. I wrote about this one recently where for a dollar a minute you could chat with this, the AI version of this influencer. And people started to develop deep friendships with this AI and not really be able to tell the difference. You know, emotionally it was affecting them. So I think we’re going to see those problems,” she added, stressing that there should be disclosures on things that are AI generated so “we know if we’re talking to a real person or not”.

Examining other such ethical dimensions, the two-member panel went on to provide some more key insights into how we can navigate and shape a more inclusive and responsible future for the younger generation amidst the rapid technological advancements. The hour-long discussion was followed by a book signing session by the authors.

‘Barcode Prison’

Meanwhile at the book fair, the visitors were treated to a theatrical performance entitled ‘Barcode Prison’ by a group of Emirati artists. The play addresses bullying, and how it afflicts particularly those aged 18 and above.

The play lasts for almost three hours Image Credit: Supplied

Centred on the story of a group of prisoners confined to a bleak world – one where each is assigned a barcode instead of a name – the play delves deep into the themes of isolation and the will to persevere in the face of adversity.

The roughly three-hour-long show delivers a perspective on the issue of bullying within the confines of a prison, with director Marwan Abdullah Saleh driving home his message in a humorous manner using the group of unruly inmates awaiting their sentences – all played by Emirati actors Marwan Abdullah, Ahmed Mal Allah, Musa Al Bukishi, Bader Hakmi, Haifa Al Ali, and Reem Al Faisal.

And just as the ‘prisoners’ begin to find out about each other, how each of their fellow inmates end up in jail, the plot thickens. Barcode Prison is among the lineup of 130 theatrical performances being showcased during this year’s SIBF that comes to a close on November 12.