The Class of 2022 includes graduates from 24 countries, including eight Emiratis Image Credit: Instagram/@mbzuai

Abu Dhabi: The Mohamed Bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI) today honoured its inaugural class of graduates in a commencement ceremony in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi.

The 52 graduates in the Class of 2022 had pursued two-year Masters degrees at the university in one of two fields of specialisation - computer vision or machine learning. The graduates received their degrees from Sheikh Theyab bin Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Member of Abu Dhabi Executive Council and chairman of the Crown Prince Court.

The event was also attended by Bruno Le Maire, French Minister for Economy and Finance; Omar bin Sultan Al Olama, UAE Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, Digital Economy and Remote Work Applications; and Sarah bint Yousif Al Amiri, UAE Minister of State for Public Education and Future Technology, and Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Emirates Schools Establishment.

Dr Sultan Al Jaber, Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology, COP28 President and chairman of the MBZUAI, addressed the graduates, and urged them to join the UAE’s drive towards transformational progress.

MBZUAI was launched in 2019 as the first research-based university dedicated to the development of AI Image Credit: Supplied

Logical step to progress

Dr Al Jaber said: “The pursuit of progress is core to the UAE’s principles and identity. In only 50 years, we have managed to achieve game-changing advances, while embedding sustainable development into our own economy. By embracing the promise of artificial intelligence [AI], we are taking the next logical step in our national development strategy. AI will transform every aspect of our lives. We stand on the verge of a technological revolution that will be unlike anything we have experienced before, and MBZUAI is at the forefront of what comes next.”

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Dignitaries during the ceremony Image Credit: Supplied

He also highlighted why this year is a special time to graduate, on the cusp of the UAE hosting COP28 at a time when the stakes “could not be higher”.

“The UAE takes on this role with humility, a deep responsibility, and great sense of urgency. We need to all back [efforts to limit] the global rise in temperature to 1.5C, and without slowing economic growth. In fact, we need to find every possible way to accelerate and fast-track sustainable economic development.”

He added: “We need to drive an inclusive energy transformation that leaves no one behind, especially in the global South. We need to make our planet wealthier and healthier at the same time. I have no doubt that you – the first graduating class of MBZUAI – hold some of the keys to the transformational breakthroughs that we all need in the world today.”

First AI research university

The UAE emphasises AI and future tech as tools that will steer its next 50 years of growth and advancement. MBZUAI, which opened its doors in 2019, is the first research-based university in the world that is dedicated to the development of AI. Dr Al Jaber said AI tech will enhance healthcare and industrial processes, while also making energy cleaner and more efficient.

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Focus on larger meanings

According to Dr Eric Xing, MBZUAI president and university professor, the university’s degrees are already considered among the world’s top 25 programmes in their areas of specialisation, including AI, computer vision, machine learning, and natural language processing.

“I urge the faculty and students to bear in mind the larger meaning of your work and your mission. We are living in an era of unprecedented societal transformation of technology. The world is being rocked by AI, from advancing agriculture to reusable rockets, to predicting protein structure in drug design to forecasting viral spread in pandemic containments, AI is the game-changer that offers the edge,” Dr Xing said.

“But we have learnt from history how the application of technology, in the absence of a social good and sensitivity, can have harmful impacts. In the 1950s, chemists produced pesticides and related materials that even today affect the health of communities, and remain in our environment. AI will be no different. Its power will enable solution and scientific discovery but it can also be used for notorious purposes in the wrong hands.”

He therefore urged the graduates to hold strong to their values, morals and spiritual learnings as a means of guidance for decision making and protection from “distractions and illusions”.

Force for good

“The UAE’s leadership has envisioned a remarkable future in which the UAE will be a force for good, advancing the industrial revolution, and improving human wellbeing. This nation has shown the will and capacity to be an early adopter of technology. MBZUAI must be ready to undertake the responsibility of supplying a well-trained workforce, and cutting-edge technology, toward that mission,” Dr Xing said.

The inaugural class included students from 24 nationalities, including eight Emiratis. One third of the graduates were female, and a number of them plan to stay on in the UAE and drive the nation’s AI vision.

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Many graduates will stay on in the UAE to work in priority sectors for national development Image Credit: Supplied

Graduates’ dreams

Mohamed Al Zaabi, 26, is one of the Emirati graduates who will go back to the workforce. The reservoir engineer and a person of determination collected his degree on his wheelchair, and told Gulf News he wants to help his country attain even more.

Mohamed Al Zaabi

“For my thesis, I chose to research deep neural networks, even though it is a field of study that is vastly removed from his career. I like challenges, and it helped me learn more about data visualisation. I hope to apply my learnings in my professional role, and am very proud to be an Emirati graduating in the MBZUAI’s inaugural batch,” Al Zaabi said.

Huge responsibility

Shahad Al Shamsi, 26, was another graduate in the Class of 2022. She was selected as class valedictorian, and urged her fellow graduates to focus on turning their learnings into deliverables that will benefit their communities and the world.

Shahad Al Shamsi

“I consider it a huge responsibility to be an Emirati in this inaugural batch, and I am looking forward to what comes next,” she said. The machine learning graduate is looking to take up a role that will both help her take the UAE’s AI’s strategy forward, and also enable her to give back to society.

A number of international students were also part of the Class of 2022 graduates.

Toluwani Aremu

“When I initially came across the MBZUAI programme two years ago, it felt like a dream come true. As a computer engineer working in cybersecurity, I had been looking to enhance my skillset with information on AI and future tech, as AI is already automating much of our processes. I believe it will also help solve much of our problems,” Toluwani Aremu said.

The enterprising graduate plans to now stay on in the UAE, and push innovation in the fields of smart cities and smart health.

AI symposium

The commencement ceremony was followed by a symposium on the first AI for Sustainability Symposium, which saw the participation of Dr Xing, Daniela Rus, Director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) at MIT; Phil Blunsom, chief scientist at Cohere.AI, professor at Oxford, formerly the NLP lead at Google DeepMind; and Tim Baldwin, MBZUAI acting provost and professor of Natural Language Processing.

“The prevalence of women among the first graduating class of MBZUAI speaks to the critical nature of gender diversity in our field, contributing to a less biased, more balanced, and mature sector as a whole. From research to the application of AI in industry, women – including these first graduates of MBZUAI – have a vital role to play in the UAE and beyond,” Rus said.