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Abu Dhabi’s Thriving Artificial Intelligence Scene


Skift Take

Strong government investment, peer-to-peer knowledge sharing, and a robust collaboration network have made Abu Dhabi an emerging global hub for artificial intelligence — and an increasingly attractive destination for meetings and events catering to this sector.

As the United Arab Emirates (UAE) continues to transition from an oil-based economy to a more knowledge-based economy, artificial intelligence is expected to become one of the country’s key sectors. The World Economic Forum estimates that artificial intelligence will add nearly $16 trillion to the global economy by 2030.

Abu Dhabi is spearheading the UAE’s transition. The country’s capital city boasts a burgeoning startup community, advanced machine-learning research facilities, and world-class educational institutions like the Khalifa University of Science and Technology (KU) and the Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI).

“These institutions help anchor Abu Dhabi’s world-class AI ecosystem,” said Dr. Ernesto Damiani, professor and senior director of Khalifa University’s Robotics and Intelligent Systems Institute. “The ecosystem is also composed of several large companies that are invested in developing AI applications across a variety of verticals, from healthcare to energy.”

International professionals and researchers are relocating to Abu Dhabi thanks to the UAE’s Golden Visa program, which provides a wide range of visa options to top global talent for up to 10 years.

A Unique Government Partnership

In 2017, the UAE became the first country to appoint a minister of artificial intelligence, Omar Sultan Al Olama, who views artificial intelligence as a horizontal enabler that cuts across many industries, including information technology, healthcare, manufacturing, transportation, finance, and marketing.

“Having a federal minister is what makes the UAE so special,” Damiani said. “The minister oversees the UAE’s Council for Artificial Intelligence, which helps the community coordinate research and assemble resources. This is something I rarely see in Europe or other regions of the world. The Council encourages collaboration while also fostering an important degree of competition.”

In addition to leading the strategic vision, setting priorities, and serving as an advocate for the sector at the federal level, the minister helps foster collaboration and information exchange among the region’s various educational institutions and research facilities.

“I’m very happy to know we have a friend and advocate in the government,” said Dr. Jorge Manuel Miranda Dias, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at KUCARS. “It gives Abu Dhabi a stronger position on the international stage.”

Abu Dhabi’s Artificial Intelligence Infrastructure

One of the Council’s biggest priorities is to enable the practical application of artificial intelligence, an effort supported by Khalifa University, MBZUAI, and the region’s growing cluster of educational and research institutions devoted to the sector.

For example, Khalifa University has been ramping up its artificial intelligence and robotics capabilities for more than 10 years, with the establishment of KUCARS in 2018 marking a major milestone for its growth in the sector.

“We have about 80 researchers working on advanced robotics projects, including about 12 faculty members, 30 post-doc researchers, and 50 graduate students,” said Dr. Lakmal Seneviratne, a professor who helped set up Khalifa University’s robotics division in 2010. “Our lab facilities are second to none, including a new marine robotics pool, an autonomous driving test lab, and a number of smaller laboratories focused on industrial robotics, space robotics, computer vision, and drones, to name a few. We even launched a program to strengthen food security, applying robotics to greenhouse and indoor farming.”

MBZUAI is teaming up with IBM to open a new research facility, the AI Centre for Excellence, which will bring students, faculty members, and IBM researchers together to develop artificial intelligence applications that address an array of real world challenges, from health care to climate change. In addition, the university plans to open a new supercomputing resource that can help students and researchers process the complex algorithms and large data sets needed to produce accurate results and models.

Other institutions include the NYU Abu Dhabi Center for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (CAIR), which is exploring how to use artificial intelligence to combat climate change, and the Technology Innovation Institute (TII), a global research center dedicated to pushing the frontiers of knowledge in a variety of advanced scientific fields, including natural language processing, a key component of the artificial intelligence sector. TII recently unveiled the world’s largest Arabic language processing model, Noor, which is designed to boost the development of tools like chatbots, language translation, and sentiment analysis across social media.

An Ideal Destination for Meetings and Events

Skift’s 2022 Megatrends reported that Abu Dhabi’s meetings and events strategy prioritizes the health and safety of residents and travelers while innovating around infrastructure, technology, culture, and experiential offerings. The city’s recently announced Advantage Abu Dhabi’s Meeting and Incentive 2.0 provides comprehensive value-adds and enhanced experiences to incentivize corporate clients to select Abu Dhabi for their events, and several conferences in the artificial intelligence sector are on the horizon.

In November, MBZUAI and NYU Abu Dhabi are co-hosting the 2022 conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing, a leading conference on natural language processing and artificial intelligence. And in October 2024, Khalifa University is hosting the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems, one of the largest robotics research conferences in the world.

Together, these high-caliber events make a strong case for Abu Dhabi as a truly global artificial intelligence hub. The city has been awarded the International Conference on Artificial Intelligence Circuits and Systems (AICAS) in 2024, a highly acclaimed annual event established “to facilitate state-of-the-art research, innovation, and development activities at the frontiers of artificial intelligence.”

Looking Ahead: A Vision for the Future

Abu Dhabi has laid a great foundation for future growth in artificial intelligence. Sector leaders are confident that the city’s investment in developing people, supporting educational and research-led institutions, and fostering a robust tech business environment will pay major dividends over the next decade.

Seneviratne is excited for the road ahead: “Looking back over the past 10 years, we would never have imagined how quickly robotics and artificial intelligence would develop in Abu Dhabi. I think the next 10 years are going to be even more explosive.”

This content was created collaboratively by Abu Dhabi and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX.



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