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Is the Middle East Ready To Resemble a World Like the Jetsons? With Jamil Asfour

Updated: Apr 1

Episode 6: Is the Middle East Ready to Resemble a World Like the Jetsons'? with Jamil Asfour

In this episode, we sit down with Jamil Asfour to hear his insights on industries that are leveraging Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence. We discuss:

  1. Industries in the Middle East that are leveraging ML & AI

  2. How governments can foster innovation within ML & AI

  3. The benefits of integrating ML & AI into businesses

Jamil believes that:

  1. Tech can change the world, particularly when powering HealthTech, EdTech, FinTech, and AgriTech initiatives.

  2. The Internet of Things (IoT) & AI go hand-in-hand.

  3. There is no “smart city” but, rather, government can build smart islands with bridges in between.

  4. Consumer demand towards digitization is driving ML & AI adoption.

  5. Machines don't have empathy (yet), which is their strongest limitation.

How can Middle East governments support ML & AI innovation?

For governments to foster innovation across ML & AI, they would need to set supportive governance, infrastructure, and policies as building blocks.

Across MENA, the UAE government is the readiest to accelerate innovations across ML & AI because:

  1. They have a dedicated National Program for AI.

  2. Their federal AI strategic is comparative globally.

  3. The government has been investing since 1971 to empower entrepreneurs (example supportive environments are Dubai Future Foundation, DIFC FinTech Hive, Hub71).

  4. There are dedicated federal-level targets to drive the agenda (e.g. Emirates Blockchain Strategy 2021).

  5. Strategic connections with other international markets.

Saudi Arabia is also leading in the space through several of its initiatives, including Neom district and KAUST university.

As for the rest of the Gulf countries, Kuwait is a conservative market (though entrepreneurship has been prevalent there), whilst Bahrain is a small market (though it's making efforts to set itself up as a FinTech thought Hub specifically).

However, the innovators in this space don't come from the UAE because the critical mass that would drive the innovation does not graduate from its universities. Instead, the talent is sought after right now from other regions (mostly Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Levant). However, there are several initiatives being rolled out locally to change this (e.g. One Million Arab Coders Initiative).

What are emerging ML & AI innovations in the Middle East?

FinTech ML/ AI use cases most commonly seen are across wealth management & advisory, customer communication, and regulatory reporting. Whereas common Healthcare use cases support decision-making tools for doctors, vaccine development, and telemedicine.

When implementing ML/ AI, the objective should not be to simply reduce headcount/ cost. Rather, implement the tech to achieve digital advancement (i.e. reshape people’s skills from just suitable for mundane work).

The UAE has dedicated regulations to encourage companies to develop autonomous driving vehicles. Specific to this field, the policies need to provide clear guidelines across privacy and ethics, which often are blurred lines when considering ML & AI.

Thanks to our guest who shared insights with us on this episode, Jamil Asfour

As a ‘techie’, Jamil has hands-on experience in ubiquitous computing, data centers, IoT, ML, and AI, having worked for Fortune 500 companies (Apple, IBM, HPE, E&Y) across the globe. He has also led the development of long-term global technology partnerships within government and private sector organizations. In addition, Jamil worked as an Executive Director of Investments and Technology partnerships managing $3.5 Billion to invest in startups, large companies, and VC funds.


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