Arab Narratives About Artificial Intelligence Are Explored

Arab Narratives About Artificial Intelligence Are Explored

Al-Fanar Media elaborates on a report where the so-called Arab narratives, about Artificial Intelligence, are explored. AI is also predicted, it could change the MENA region more profoundly than anything else before. How would that happen?
Is it through using a wide-ranging branch of computer science concerned with building intelligent machines capable of performing tasks that typically require human beings’ brains?
Or is it just another way of procuring the ability of a computer or computer-controlled or robot to perform tasks commonly associated with intelligent beings? Or put another way, is it needed to cover humans’ unpredictable performance by a more stable and well-controlled machine?

But what are Arab narratives?

The MENA region is culturally dominated by the Arab ethnocultural authoritarianism in the current socio-political systems and finds it difficult to get their respective populations to come up with some added value in any domain.

They might, though, have some success with the AI. Let us see.

The picture above is for illustration.

Arab Narratives About Artificial Intelligence Are Explored in New Report

By Tarek Abd El-Galil 

CAIRO—The Middle East and North Africa region needs to be more involved in the global debate about the development of artificial intelligence-related technology, says a new report that examines the narratives about technological futures that are widespread in the Arab world.

Narratives about future uses of robots and intelligent machines—how a culture portrays them in areas including history, literature, art and films—can influence the development and reception of artificial intelligence (AI), says the report. Yet Western perspectives typically dominate AI discussions, it says, and Arab perspectives are largely missing.

Arab Narratives About Artificial Intelligence Are Explored
The authors examine the ideas about artificial intelligence that are prevalent in the Arab world and seek to bring them into the wider debate (Image: Pixabay).

Titled “Imagining a Future With Artificial Machines: A Middle Eastern and North African Perspective,” the report was issued earlier this month by the Access to Knowledge for Development Center at the American University in Cairo’s School of Business and the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Artificial Intelligence at the University of Cambridge.

It notes the MENA region’s rich history and culture and the ability of its youth to employ technology as a means of expression, by presenting  literary works based on science fiction or by their economic participation in technology-based start-ups, which can help create new business models suitable for the future and contribute to providing job opportunities in an area where young people make up a large majority of the population

Joining the Global Dialogue

“The region might not be rich in technology compared to developed countries,” said Nagla Rizk, a professor of economics and founding director of the Access to Knowledge for Development Center, who is a co-author of the report. “However,” she added, “it has a rich stock of culture and history that manifests in technological narratives in different ways.”

“Our participation in this initiative was an excellent opportunity to include the voice of our Arab region in the global dialogue platform on artificial intelligence narratives.”

Nagla Rizk  A professor of economics and founding director of the Ac cess to Knowledge for Development Center

The report comes as part of the Global Artificial Intelligence Narratives Project, an initiative within the Leverhulme Centre to build a network of experts around the world to analyze different cultures’ perceptions of the risks and benefits of AI. The initiative holds a series of workshops outside the English-speaking world, with local multidisciplinary groups of researchers and practitioners from fields related to AI narratives, such as science fiction, scientists, artists, AI researchers, philosophers, writers and anthropologists.

“Our participation in this initiative was an excellent opportunity to include the voice of our Arab region in the global dialogue platform on artificial intelligence narratives,” Rizk said.

She noted that because modern technology, especially artificial intelligence, is usually developed in technologically advanced countries in response to the needs and aspirations of their people and in a way that expresses their cultures, this can result in a kind of inequality, given that the rest of the world does not share those countries’ needs in developing this technology.

Not a Technology ‘Desert’

The report refutes the common notion that the MENA region is a technology “desert” devoid of ideas and the real development of technology. It reveals the existence of rich, rapidly growing technological oases that mix the influence of Western, Eastern and local cultures, and have their own independent character. (See the related articles “Genetics and Artificial Intelligence Drive Qatar University’s Covid-19 Research” and “Arab Researchers Use Artificial Intelligence in Bid to Thwart Fake News.”)

For example, technological development is being pushed at breakneck speed by the governments in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, as well as in less affluent countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia. Such initiatives are often influenced by Western models, in contrast with the current grass-roots efforts and start-ups, which usually rely on simple technologies and local techniques that reflect the concepts of individuals.

“Stories about AI that are grounded in the realities of people living in the Middle East are the best way to explore local visions of the future using smart machines.”

Tomasz Hollanek  A media and technology researcher at the University of Cambridge and a student fellow at the Leverhulme Centre

“Stories about AI that are grounded in the realities of people living in the Middle East are the best way to explore local visions of the future using smart machines,” said Tomasz Hollanek, a media and technology researcher at the University of Cambridge and a student fellow at the Leverhulme Centre. Hollanek, who is also one of the report’s authors, believes it is important for these visions to reflect the aspirations and needs of the region’s people, rather than importing ideas from elsewhere, particularly from the English-speaking West.

Fear of Reinforcing Stereotypes 

The report expresses concerns that some narratives about artificial intelligence in the region will reinforce gender stereotypes in the future. It cites an example from a popular Egyptian comedy skit from the 1980s, in which a female robot named “Ruby” appears as a domestic servant who responds to orders from the play’s main male character.

In contrast, “Ibn Sina,” the first Arabic-speaking robot, created in the U.A.E., is anthropomorphized as male and is not a servant. Named after a famous 11th-century philosopher, physician and poet, the robot symbolizes the region’s scientific heritage and reflects strength and wisdom, the main traits of masculinity in patriarchal societies.

Another local example is a robot named “Zaki”—which means “smart” in Arabic.  Zaki is a chatbot used in an Internet banking platform in Egypt, and thus reflects men’s control of the financial sector, the report says.

Hollanek points out that narratives can have a direct impact on how technologies are conceived and developed. For example, the representation of certain groups on screen can have a realistic effect on who performs certain jobs: the more female AI researchers appear in films and TV series, the more likely young, ambitious women will pursue a career in AI research.

“We hope for a better reality and future for Arab women, away from stereotypes, which will naturally be reflected in their portrayal in technological narratives,” said Rizk.

Obstacles and Opportunities

“We just need to be able to discover talented people and properly employ them to build a base for technology development.”

Mohamed Zahran  A professor of computer science at New York University

According to Hollanek, the report reveals how post-colonial perspectives—both in the region and among MENA citizens and beyond—continue to significantly influence perceptions of the Arab region’s potential for full realization of the benefits of AI. That’s why he says it’s important to imagine a future with intelligent machines as a decolonial activity, as a way to resist the Western ideas of “progress” or “development.”

Mohamed Zahran, a professor of computer science at New York University, believes there are obstacles facing the region’s acceptance of the development of artificial intelligence. These include the fear that robots will take people’s jobs, and the fear of Western dominance in the technology market; fears the report also highlighted.

However, Zahran agrees with the report’s authors that the region will be able to overcome these obstacles, with its capabilities, talents, and emerging artificial intelligence start-ups, in addition to the ability to rent supercomputers that are now available.

While technology is Western, Zahran said, the report draws the world’s attention to the Middle East and what it can contribute to developing the future of artificial intelligence. “We just need to be able to discover talented people and properly employ them to build a base for technology development,” he said.

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Researchers develop new software for designing sustainable cities

Researchers develop new software for designing sustainable cities

“Cities, more than any other ecosystems, are designed by people. Why not be more thoughtful about how we design the places where most of us spend our time?” wondered Anne Guerry in a Stanford University article in which Sarah Cafasso explains how Researchers develop new software for designing sustainable cities.

Stanford researchers develop new software for designing sustainable cities

By 2050, more than 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities. Stanford Natural Capital Project researchers have developed software that shows city planners where to invest in nature to improve people’s lives and save billions of dollars.

By Sarah Cafasso, Stanford Natural Capital Project

New technology could help cities around the world improve people’s lives while saving billions of dollars. The free, open-source software developed by the Stanford Natural Capital Project creates maps to visualize the links between nature and human wellbeing. City planners and developers can use the software to visualize where investments in nature, such as parks and marshlands, can maximize benefits to people, like protection from flooding and improved health.

By 2050, over 70 percent of the world’s people are projected to live in cities. As the global community becomes increasingly urban, cities are looking for ways to design with sustainability in mind. (Image credit: Zhang Mengyang / iStock)

“This software helps design cities that are better for both people and nature,” said Anne Guerry, Chief Strategy Officer and Lead Scientist at the Natural Capital Project. “Urban nature is a multitasking benefactor – the trees on your street can lower temperatures so your apartment is cooler on hot summer days. At the same time, they’re soaking up the carbon emissions that cause climate change, creating a free, accessible place to stay healthy through physical activity and just making your city a more pleasant place to be.”

By 2050, experts expect over 70 percent of the world’s people to live in cities – in the United States, more than 80 percent already do. As the global community becomes more urban, developers and city planners are increasingly interested in green infrastructure, such as tree-lined paths and community gardens, that provide a stream of benefits to people. But if planners don’t have detailed information about where a path might encourage the most people to exercise or how a community garden might buffer a neighborhood from flood risk while helping people recharge mentally, they can’t strategically invest in nature.

“We’re answering three crucial questions with this software: where in a city is nature providing what benefits to people, how much of each benefit is it providing and who is receiving those benefits?” said Perrine Hamel, lead author on a new paper about the software published in Urban Sustainability and Livable Cities Program Lead at the Stanford Natural Capital Project at the time of research.

The software, called Urban InVEST, is the first of its kind for cities and allows for the combination of environmental data, like temperature patterns, with social demographics and economic data, like income levels. Users can input their city’s datasets into the software or access a diversity of open global data sources, from NASA satellites to local weather stations. The new software joins the Natural Capital Project’s existing InVEST software suite, a set of tools designed for experts to map and model the benefits that nature provides to people.

To test Urban InVEST, the team applied the software in multiple cities around the world: Paris, France; Lausanne, Switzerland; Shenzhen and Guangzhou, China; and several U.S. cities, including San Francisco and Minneapolis. In many cases, they worked with local partners to understand priority questions – in Paris, candidates in a municipal election were campaigning on the need for urban greenery, while in Minneapolis, planners were deciding how to repurpose underused golf course land.

Running the numbers

In Shenzhen, China, the researchers used Urban InVEST to calculate how natural infrastructure like parks, grassland and forest would reduce damages in the event of a severe, once-in-one-hundred years storm. They found that the city’s nature would help avoid $25 billion in damages by soaking up rain and diverting floodwaters. They also showed that natural infrastructure – like trees and parks – was reducing the daily air temperature in Shenzhen by 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius) during hot summer days, providing a dollar value of $71,000 per day in benefits to the city.

Targeting inequities

A map of the Paris metropolitan area of France showing neighborhoods with the lowest access to green spaces (yellow), the lowest income neighborhoods (red), and an overlap of the two (blue) where, according to the Urban InVEST software, investing in green spaces like parks would have the greatest impact on reducing inequalities. (Image credit: Perrine Hamel et al)

Nature is often distributed unevenly across cities – putting lower-income people at a disadvantage. Data show that lower-income and marginalized communities often have less access to nature in cities, meaning they are unable to reap the benefits, like improved mental and physical health, that nature provides to wealthier populations.

In Paris, the researchers looked at neighborhoods without access to natural areas and overlaid income and economic data to understand who was receiving benefits from nature. The software helped determine where investments in more greenspace – like parks and bike paths – could be most effective at boosting health and wellbeing in an equitable way.

Planning for a greener future

In the Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota region, golf revenue is declining. The downturn has created an appealing opportunity for private golf courses to sell off their land for development. But should developers create a new park or build a new neighborhood? Urban InVEST showed how, compared to golf courses, new parks could increase urban cooling, keep river waters clean, support bee pollinators and sustain dwindling pockets of biodiversity. New residential development, on the other hand, would increase temperatures, pollute freshwater and decrease habitat for bees and other biodiversity.

Healthy city ecosystems

Urban InVEST is already seeing use outside of a research setting – it recently helped inform an assessment of how nature might help store carbon and lower temperatures in 775 European cities.

“Cities, more than any other ecosystems, are designed by people. Why not be more thoughtful about how we design the places where most of us spend our time?” said Guerry, also an author on the paper. “With Urban InVEST, city governments can bring all of nature’s benefits to residents and visitors. They can address inequities and build more resilient cities, resulting in better long-term outcomes for people and nature.”

AI used to examine construction following earthquakes

AI used to examine construction following earthquakes

SmartCitiesWorld News team informs that AI is used to examine construction following earthquakes in its vital assessment concerning quality, safety and potential risks in its future usage.

The picture above is about how an App helps engineers identify structural issues. Photo courtesy: Build Change

AI used to examine construction following earthquakes

An open-source project hosted by the Linux Foundation with support from IBM and Call for Code will use machine learning to help inform quality assurance for construction in emerging nations.

A new open source machine learning tool has been developed to help inform quality assurance for construction in emerging nations.

Build Change, with support from IBM as part of the Call for Code initiative, created the Intelligent Supervision Assistant for Construction (ISAC-SIMO) tool to feedback on specific construction elements such as masonry walls and reinforced concrete columns.

Structural issues

The aim is to help engineers identify structural issues in masonry walls or concrete columns, especially in areas affected by disasters.

Users can choose a building element check and upload a photo from the site to receive a quick assessment.

“ISAC-SIMO has amazing potential to radically improve construction quality and ensure that homes are built or strengthened to a resilient standard, especially in areas affected by earthquakes, windstorms, and climate change,” said Dr Elizabeth Hausler, founder and CEO of Build Change.

“We’ve created a foundation from which the open source community can develop and contribute different models to enable this tool to reach its full potential. The Linux Foundation, building on the support of IBM over these past three years, will help us build this community.”

The ISAC-SIMO project, hosted by the Linux Foundation, was imagined as a solution to help bridge gaps in technical knowledge that were apparent in the field. It packages important construction quality assurance checks into a mobile app.

“ISAC-SIMO has amazing potential to radically improve construction quality and ensure that homes are built or strengthened to a resilient standard, especially in areas affected by earthquakes, windstorms, and climate change”

The app ensures that workmanship issues can be more easily identified by anyone with a phone, instead of solely relying on technical staff. It does this by comparing user-uploaded images against trained models to assess whether the work done is broadly acceptable (go) or not (no go) along with a specific score.

Workmanship issues can be identified by anyone with a phone. Photo courtesy: Build Change

“Due to the pandemic, the project deliverables and target audience have evolved. Rather than sharing information and workflows between separate users within the app, the app has pivoted to provide tools for each user to perform their own checks based on their role and location,” added Daniel Krook, IBM chief technology officer for the Call for Code initiative.

“This has led to a general framework that is well-suited for plugging in models from the open source community, beyond Build Change’s original use case.”

Construction elements

According to Build Change, the project encourages new users to contribute and to deploy the software in new environments around the world. Priorities for short term updates include improvements in user interface, contributions to the image dataset for different construction elements, and support to automatically detect if the perspective of an image is flawed.

Build Change seeks to help save lives in earthquakes and windstorms. Its mission is to prevent housing loss caused by disasters by transforming the systems that regulate, finance, build, and improve houses around the world.

Dubai completes first phase of unified employee database

Dubai completes first phase of unified employee database

SmartCitiesWorld News team informs that Smart Dubai completes the first phase of the unified employee database, which is a commendable step towards its self-imposed reaching a particular knowledge economy, notably through lessening its uncertain future employment.   

However, one would not help but wonder if it were necessary to conjecture that more and more divestment in the region is getting more pronounced by the day unless it was meant to help.

Here is what is happening.

Smart Dubai completes first phase of unified employee database

7 Jun 2021

Dubai Government wants to optimise investment in its human resources and establish a reliable source of employee data, as well as meet the requirements of its smart city aspirations.

The initiative aligns with the emirate’s comprehensive shift towards smart technologies

Smart Dubai has completed phase one of the “Unified Registry for Dubai Government Employees” project which aims to enable the Dubai Government to optimise investment in its human resources and build their capacities.

Launched in collaboration with the Dubai Government Human Resources Department (DGHR) and the Dubai Electronic Security Centre, the project also seeks to establish a reliable source of government employee data as well as meet the requirements of its smart city aspirations.

Centralised database

The project forms part of the Dubai Registers initiative launched by Smart Dubai in March 2020. It aims to compile and present an accurate and centralised database to facilitate managing employee data.

This, in turn, helps with planning and decision-making on matters related to human resources within the Dubai Government and across various government entities, in line with the emirate’s policies for a comprehensive shift towards smart technologies.

According to Abdulla Ali Bin Zayed Al-Falasi, director general of DGHR, human resources is the cornerstone of any UAE development process, and therefore quality data about it should be available to officials to enable them to develop future plans and strategies.

“The Government of Dubai is moving steadily towards a comprehensive and complete digital transformation, in line with our leadership’s vision to establish a digital government dedicated to embracing advanced technologies and using them to formulate solutions that enhance government efficiency and ensure the best use of human resources,” said Younus Al Nasser, assistant director general of Smart Dubai, and CEO of the Dubai Data Establishment.

“The ultimate goal is to help the UAE advance to the highest ranks on performance indexes across all sectors.”

Phase one saw 24 Dubai Government entities take part in the project including the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs, Directorate General of Civil Defence, Department of Finance, and Dubai Police General Command.

“The Government of Dubai is moving steadily towards a comprehensive and complete digital transformation, in line with our leadership’s vision to establish a digital government dedicated to embracing advanced technologies”

Smart Dubai reports 40 per cent of the project’s second phase has been completed, in collaboration with its strategic partners. Phase two will see another 30 government entities added to the list, with more than 130 entities slated to join the project by the end of the fourth and final phase.

The DGHR has been in charge of determining which data is mandatory to be included in the registry and which is only optional, after the data is approved by Smart Dubai. DGHR is then entrusted with following up on government entities to ensure their compliance.

Data quality standards

Meanwhile, Smart Dubai is tasked with designing the registry, linking it with other registers in the emirate, ensuring data quality standards are met, and approving the data descriptions and classifications submitted by government entities when feeding their employee data into the registry.

As the government entity in charge of the security and protection of data, networks, and all government electronic systems, the Dubai Electronic Security Centre is working to link the registry with the centre itself to be able to run regular checks on the system and ensure all security standards are met, in coordination with Smart Dubai.

Technology helps deliver sustainability agenda

Technology helps deliver sustainability agenda

A MEED EDITORIAL on Technology helps deliver a sustainability agenda or a plan for a future without the nocive industrialisation development as known today.

Thus Mohammad Saleh, head of Autodesk Middle East region, argues in MEED. Let us see how the Environmental Impact on the Built Environment could be affected amongst many other things.

Technology helps deliver sustainability agenda

24 May 2021

Digital solutions play a crucial role in helping engineers and designers to achieve environmental sustainability goals, says Autodesk’s Mohammad Saleh

The debate around sustainability has moved on from recycling plastic and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. This concept has now evolved to encompass how businesses operate.

Put simply, no matter what industry the business is in, it must have sustainability at the core of how it operates.

The impact of the pandemic has highlighted the need for greater resiliency in all fields. And sustainability will play an important role in enabling industry to adjust to the challenges ahead.

Read Investing in the long term with ESG

At its heart, this means designing our businesses, infrastructure and manufacturing processes to be more resilient. Businesses must harness the power of data and insights to allow teams to collaborate closely and more effectively.

This is not a theoretical challenge. The world is faced with a race against time to meet the huge demand for new housing from an ever-growing population, estimated to hit 10 billion by 2050, according to data from the UN. This means that about 13,000 new buildings must be built every day just to keep pace with demand.

If this was not daunting enough, the fact that 30 per cent of all the world’s waste every year comes from the construction industry reveals the true complexity of the challenges ahead.

We must do more, better and with less, if we are going to be successful.

Identifying the goals

By aligning business objectives with UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we can find a way through.

There are 17 SDGs in total and they include providing access to renewable energy; building resilient infrastructure; promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialisation; fostering innovation; making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable; ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns; and taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

Climate change is a significant issue for the UAE and the wider Gulf region. According to research conducted by the Stockholm Environment Institute’s US centre in 2010, the UAE could lose up to 6 per cent of its 1,300-kilometre stretch of coastline by the end of the century because of rising sea levels. This is a significant impact when you consider that 85 per cent of the population and more than 90 per cent of the UAE’s infrastructure is within several metres of sea level in low-lying coastal areas.

Furthermore, a joint report in 2015 by the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena), the UAE-based Masdar Institute and the UAE Foreign Affairs Ministry’s directorate of energy and climate change found that increasing renewables to 10 per cent of the country’s total energy mix, and 25 per cent of total power generation, could generate annual savings of $1.9bn by 2030 through the avoidance of fossil-fuel consumption and lower energy costs.

Resolving these concerns and achieving targets will require new and innovative ways of doing things.

In practice, that means technology must enable customers to design and make products, buildings and even entire cities that promote healthy, resilient communities.

But what does that mean for the UAE?

Tapping into new opportunities

The UAE has a significant construction market, but like many places around the world, it is one that is faced with the challenge of tackling waste and high vehicle use. It can prepare for a new future by adapting to emerging technologies that have the potential to deliver a better life for its communities.  

Read Channelling smart tech to optimise building processes

This will be done by helping designers and engineers to gain insights into the impact of everyday decisions about materials and energy use.

Technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) based generative design and the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3), a tool that gives builders and designers information about the embodied carbon impact of building materials during the materials selection process, are already enabling customers to use resources more efficiently and productively, thereby saving money and reducing carbon emissions.

Technology must also be used to further enhance people’s ability to adapt, grow and prosper alongside increasing levels of automation.

The power of the cloud really came to the fore in 2020 as millions of people worked remotely due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This technology helped school children to attend classes from home, and helped construction teams on different continents continue to collaborate in an effective and productive manner that allowed projects to be completed.

Read Cloud drives the digitalisation of Middle East construction

These factors, coupled with newer, three-dimensional (3D) design tools, make everything from products to building design far easier to create in ways that reduce waste while saving on time and cost.

Generative design, which is an iterative design process that can mimic nature’s evolutionary approach to create unique designs, is becoming increasingly prevalent within industry. Designers input their set of conditions for a project into a computer and then an algorithm will automate the process by going through many different permutations of the design to find the form that is best suited to the requirements.

There is no one technological solution to the problems we face, but by adopting a more sustainable approach that encompasses a broader range of technologies, these challenges can be overcome.

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