MBZUAI first batch
The student body, including 14 Emiratis, were given a detailed orientation about the university prior to the beginning of the academic year. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: The Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI), the world’s first graduate-level, research-based artificial intelligence (AI) university, has officially welcomed its first student cohort at a virtual event with students from across the world, who will be beginning their studies in Abu Dhabi later this week.

Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, UAE Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology and Chairman of the MBZUAI Board of Trustees, delivered a welcome speech emphasising the critical importance of AI, especially during the pandemic, as well as in transforming industries to achieve greater outcomes. He was joined by Professor Dr Eric Xing, president of MBZUAI, as well as members from the student body, faculty, and staff from the university.

The student body, including 14 Emiratis, were given a detailed orientation about the university prior to the beginning of the academic year. They participated in a variety of academic activities. International students began arriving in Abu Dhabi in November to receive a cultural introduction to the UAE and to complete the COVID-19 health and safety precautionary measures as set out by Abu Dhabi health authorities.

Distinguished faculty

MBZUAI offers a purpose-built, high-tech and eco-friendly campus, which includes smart classrooms and research laboratories, an AI-specialised knowledge centre and recreational facilities. All programmes are taught by a distinguished faculty of subject experts from around the world.

The event on Tuesday welcomed 78 students who have joined the University from 29 countries. MBZUAI’s first students were selected from thousands of applications received by the university from nearly 100 countries. The first cohort includes 13 PhD students and 65 MSc students, who have enrolled in MBZUAI’s Machine Learning and Computer Vision programmes.

Dr Al Jaber said: “I am delighted to welcome the first cohort of MBZUAI students, who represent a milestone in delivering our promise to establish a centre for AI development and research at a critical time as the world looks to technology to help power the post-COVID-19 recovery. With global expertise and a truly international student body hailing from 29 countries, the university will empower the UAE to become a leader in the field of AI, in alignment with the wise vision of the country’s leadership.”

Focus on four pillars

In addition to delivering world-class education, MBZUAI will apply its resources towards research and development, with a focus on four pillars: Services and quality of life, to improve services offered by the public and private sectors; industrial and manufacturing technologies, to enhance efficiencies and improve productivity; future game changers, to nurture the growth of the new and emerging high-value sectors; and sustainability of vital resources and environment, using AI to optimise the consumption of water and energy, in order to protect the environment for future generations.

Members of the MBZUAI Board of Trustees, comprising international experts, joined the event from around the world and commented on the progress of the university so far, while offering words of encouragement to the first cohort. The Board of Trustees comprises professor Sir Michael Brady, professor of Oncological Imaging at the University of Oxford; professor Anil K. Jain, a University Distinguished Professor at Michigan State University; Dr Kai-Fu Lee, a technology executive and venture capitalist based in Beijing; professor Daniela Rus, Director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL); and Peng Xiao, CEO of Group 42.

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‘Transformational technology’

MBZUAI president, professor Dr Eric Xing, said: “AI is one of the most transformational technologies of the modern age, providing tremendous opportunities for humankind. The vision for MBZUAI is to nurture a new generation of leaders in science, engineering, policy and business with the necessary understanding to unlock the potential of AI through their academic research and industrial applications.”

Since the university was founded in October 2019, MBZUAI has achieved numerous milestones. These include several strategic partnerships for AI research and excellence with internationally-renowned organisations and educational establishments, hosting numerous delegations of political and academic leaders, and launching a series of expert-led webinars to build awareness and understanding of AI amongst the global community.