Students at the American University of Sharjah Image Credit: Supplied

Dr. Fadi Aloul, head of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at American University of Sharjah, discusses how big data is transforming UAE cities into smart cities. We spoke to Dr. Aloul to learn why AI is the economic future of UAE, and the role education plays in integrating digital technology with industry. This interview has been edited for length.

What makes a city ‘smart’?

A smart city improves quality of life and makes it livable using technology. Technology can be applied to any field today – from health, to security, to transportation. The goals are reducing cost of living, time-saving, and helping us make daily decisions that are efficient and safe for citizens and government.

What are the key issues for building a smart city?

A smart city is linked to AI. The UAE inaugurated the Artificial Intelligence Strategy as part of Smart Government, making data ‘the future oil’ and AI ‘the future electricity’ of the region. Everyone has to utilise data science in their businesses to learn and make wiser decisions. While AI is over 50 years old, it has made significant impact today due to supporting advancements in technology, including large amounts of data, fast network speeds, unlimited storage, powerful processing, and numerous IoT sensors streaming data.

What position is the UAE in to support the development of smart cities?

The enablers for smart cities are in place. We’re dealing with a generation accustomed to 24/7 data-streaming. This is not a fashion trend: data science is a must. If organisations don’t use data to improve their services, they’ll run out of business.

Building a smart city is safeguarding economic activity for the future. But is there a tipping point where smart city tech adversely impacts residents?

Uber, for example, has disrupted the taxi industry. Here, we see technology playing a role in providing key services. And, it’s not like people are resisting these changes – they are migrating toward them.

How does AUS prepare graduates for contributing to the creation of a smart city?

The Department of Computer Science and Engineering is one of the largest at AUS, with 500+ students – 35% of which are women – and is highly equipped, including smart classrooms and labs complete with the latest technology, and top faculty and instructors. Our graduates are highly employable and have joined the workforce with local and multinational companies both in UAE and abroad, and started their own businesses.

We continuously improve curricula to meet market needs. Our industry-sponsored graduation projects, exchange programs, internships, certifications, and high school camps bridge the gap between theory and practice. By the time they graduate, students are innovative entrepreneurs, attractive to the market, which in turn pushes the city to become ‘smarter.’

Every field requires awareness of smart technology; AUS is therefore offering up-to-date data science education to students across many disciplines. In addition to the computer science programs available, the university has also recently launched a minor in data science through the Department of Mathematics and Statistics in conjunction with the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. Data-related courses offered through AUS’ Department of Marketing and Information Systems have also recently been updated to reflect emerging trends. AUS executive programs help professionals exploit advances in data science to the benefit of their organization. The goal is to introduce science to a breadth of learners, helping them effectively use technology to problem-solve. Investing in human capital in a knowledge-based economy is key for the UAE’s success, and AUS is contributing to the realization of a future driven by big data.