Artificial intelligence: Leap to next development stage or job threat?

Esther Baldwin, artificial intelligence strategist for Intel, center, William Tunstall-Pedoe, artificial intelligence entrepreneur formerly with Amazon Alexa, right, and moderator Riad Hamade, executive editor for the Middle East and Africa, Bloomberg News, at a panel discussion on ‘Robots and Us: Who Will be Doing What Tomorrow?’ at the Misk Global Forum in Riyadh on Thursday. (Photo courtesy: MGF)
Updated 17 November 2017
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Artificial intelligence: Leap to next development stage or job threat?

RIYADH: While some see artificial intelligence as a leap to the next developmental stage for humankind, many people are worried about jobs, said Riad Hamade, executive editor for the Middle East and Africa, Bloomberg News.
The young generation now wonders what type of jobs they should be looking for, especially after talk of smart cities powered by robots became so relevant.
“Robotics and artificial intelligence have different meanings to different people,” said Esther Baldwin, artificial intelligence strategist for Intel.
She argued that artificial intelligence is “nothing new,” and that people have had degrees in this topic since the 1980s.
Baldwin was speaking on the first day of the MiSK Global Forum, which brings young leaders, creators and thinkers together with established innovators to explore ways to meet challenges of change.
“It’s only in recent research breakthroughs that have made more natural language processing possible, but robots seem to be a topic that engenders more fear that they will take people’s jobs away or they may be dangerous,” she said, adding that it is important to define what a robot is.
Baldwin, who has spent over 25 years at Intel, pointed out that robots can be anything from very small automated devices, all the way up to something that is much more sophisticated.
Addressing autonomous vehicles, Baldwin asked whether they can be counted as robots with humans inside them. “A human is now inside the autonomous vehicle and it is driving the person around. So, is that a robot?”
Seeing a robot walking around any time soon is still very unlikely, said William Tunstall-Pedoe, artificial intelligence entrepreneur formerly with Amazon Alexa.
With autonomous driving, said Tunstall-Pedoe, artificial intelligence does have an impact on jobs. “Autonomous cars are replacing the jobs of millions of people,” he said, adding that computers have started to do things that previously only the human brain could do.
Jobs will change once robots come along, but Hamade argued that “it is not like it is the first time in human history that industries have changed. The horse and carriage was a huge industry and then it disappeared.”
According to Hamade, agricultural jobs in the US have been declining for 170 years, and manufacturing jobs peaked in 1979 and have been declining ever since. “However, service jobs have been steadily rising for a very long time. So, what is the difference this time?”
“From the first industrial revolution until today, we have been talking about augmenting humans, making it easier for them to do their jobs,” said Baldwin, adding: “If you look at labor productivity, I don’t know anybody who is working fewer hours today than they did 10 or 15 years ago. Other than France, which has designated a shorter work week for people, most people are working the same number of hours, and so it is really a shift in what we are doing.”
Tunstall-Pedoe argued that the only difference between change in the 19th century/early 20th century and now is the pace of change. “I think there is plenty of evidence that the pace of change is increasing.”
It is not necessarily clear that new jobs will replace current jobs as happened in the past, as no one knows for sure what is going to happen, said Tunstall-Pedoe, who advised the young audience attending the forum that “the remedy is to keep learning, be part of this technological change and adapt to it, and continue to learn new skills so you don’t get left behind. Stay on top of technology, apply AI (artificial intelligence)to your existing business.”
He said that senior management jobs that involve complex management of people, evolved technologies and entrepreneurship are going to be the last ones to be replaced, contrary to the simpler jobs that will be among the first to be replaced.
Involving more people in coding and programing is not the answer, according to Baldwin.
“We already seeing applications where AI is doing coding. I trained as an engineer, and if I look at the advancements over the life of my career, I used to have to do manual drafting. I don’t have to do that anymore, because of high-performance computing and simulation.”
Engineers, she said, like to solve and frame problems, which is a “crucial” trait for which humans cannot be replaced.
“There are two things critical for success: Desire and opportunity,” she said, adding that “it is very apparent that the leaders of this country are providing the youth with opportunity. The question is — do the youth have the desire? And when you match these two together, you can only be successful.”


90-year anniversary: How the Arab world came to know Tintin and Popeye

Updated 18 January 2019
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90-year anniversary: How the Arab world came to know Tintin and Popeye

  • Middle Eastern fans fondly look back at two comic icons who share a birthday this year, although they’re not without controversy
  • An Egyptian publisher printed Tintin in Arabic, while Popeye was broadcast on Saudi Channel 2 and Spacetoon

Popeye, the scruffy sailor who remains one of the most loveable characters of all time, has been a popular fixture in Middle Eastern pop culture since the early 1980s. In addition to mountains of merchandise, particularly stuffed toys, being available in local shops, the cartoons were broadcast on Saudi Channel 2 (in their original English) and on Spacetoon (with Arabic dubbing). 
“I remember the first time I watched Popeye,” Zainab Basrawi, a 36-year-old insurance lawyer and self-professed Popeye enthusiast, told Arab News. “I learned to love spinach just from watching him save Olive every time. I believed him. I think he was a great influence on children to subtly ease them into eating their greens.”
Just one week after Tintin first appeared in “Le Petit Vingtieme,” Popeye made his debut on Jan. 17, 1929 as a side character in the daily King Features comic strip “Thimble Theatre.”
Created by the American cartoonist Elzie Crisler Segar, the one-eyed sailor with bulging forearms quickly grew in popularity, becoming the star of his own strip, an animated TV cartoon and a 1980 movie starring
Robin Williams. The theme song from the cartoon, “I’m Popeye the Sailorman,” is one of the most recognized pieces of music in pop culture history.
Compared to boyish, clean-cut, good- natured Tintin, Popeye is his polar opposite.
The sailor is rough, gruff and extremely tough, famous for the super-strength he gets from eating canned spinach, and his never-ending love triangle with his girlfriend Olive Oyl and rival Bluto.
Like Tintin, as a relic from another era, Popeye has also been criticized for racial stereotypes. In “Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba and His Forty Thieves,” he is shown beating up poorly made caricatures of Arab men. In “You’re a Sap, Mr. Jap,” the Japanese characters in the cartoon get the same treatment.
However, literary critic Sophie Cline said the comic strip is reflective of the time it was created in, almost a century ago. “I think it’s important not to ignore these pieces of our history, or hide them away, but rather to own up to our mistakes and learn from them,” she told Arab News.
She alluded to the new disclaimer that now precedes old Looney Tunes cartoons, informing viewers that their outdated “racial prejudices” no longer reflect Warner Bros. values but are “products of their time.”
“Popeye cartoons reflect the common view of the era,” she said. “A disclaimer should be enough.”

Tintin, one of the world’s most famous fictional journalists, traveled the world seeking stories and adventure, so he naturally spent a good amount of time in the Middle East.
Created by Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi, better known by his pseudonym Herge (say his initials in reverse out loud in a French accent), Tintin travels the region in four of his books: “Cigars of the Pharaoh,” “The Crab with the Golden Claws,” “Land of Black Gold” and “The Red Sea Sharks.”
Tintin gained more of a foothold in the region when Egyptian publisher Dar Al-Maarif began printing the comics in Arabic in 1971. Renaming him “Tantan,” Dar Al-Maarif continued to publish the comics weekly
until 1980.
“Tintin has been one of my idols for as long as I can remember,” said Haytham Faisal, a journalist from Cairo. “I literally became a journalist because I wanted to be him. My dad used to take me to buy the comics from the local bookstore. I remember them being so expensive, so they were a rare treat. I’d always think twice before buying them, but I couldn’t always wait for the next comic to see what new story they have next. I still have some of them, they were that precious to me.”
Before appearing in book format, Tintin and his constant companion, the dog Snowy, were first introduced to audiences in “Le Petit Vingtieme,” or “The Little Twentieth,” a supplement to the Belgian newspaper “Le Vingtieme Siecle” (The Twentieth Century) on Jan. 4, 1929. Herge, however, maintained that Tintin was actually “born” on Jan. 10, when “Tintin in the Land of the Soviets” began its serialization in the paper.
Despite the fact that he never seems to hand in any stories, the loveable and quirky Tintin is portrayed as talented at his profession, so much so that he is shown to be in high demand, with many press agencies offering him bribes for his dispatches.
Over the years, Tintin’s face has been used to advertise quintessentially French items such as Citroen cars and La Vache Qui Rit cheese. Enthusiasts of Tintin lore, known as Tintinolo- gists, have written entire books devoted to him.
Since 1929, more than 250 million copies of the Tintin comic books have been sold. His adventures have been translated in more than 110 languages, and the books are sold in almost every country in the world.
Tintin continues to grow in popularity, even 90 years on. He was the star of a full-length feature film, directed by Steven Spielberg, in 2011 and of an animated television series. The latter was broadcast on Saudi Channel 2 between 1991 and 1992 and a dubbed version has been on MBC 3 since 2003.
However, the history of Tintin has not been without its hiccups. Over the years, critics have argued that, like many of the comics of the era, it should undergo censorship or even outright banning from bookstores and libraries. One of the more troublesome ones is his second adventure, “Tintin in the Congo.”
The natives Tintin visits are crude stereo- types of African people, who are portrayed as ignorant and uneducated, and the references to slavery, such as when the natives refer to Tintin as “master,” make the comics hard to stomach.
Similarly, “Land of Black Gold,” which takes place in a fictional Red Sea state named Khemed, is also banned in several Middle Eastern countries today for its stereotypical portrayal of Arabs.
While some argue the comics are simply byproducts of their era, they are nonetheless somewhat difficult to revisit in the modern era. Attempts have been made to soften some of the references, with edits being made to “Tintin in the Congo” in 1975, but is that enough?
Not according to the London-based human rights lawyer David Enright, who wrote in the Guardian newspaper that “Tintin in the Congo” shouldn’t be sold to children. “Books are precious, but so are the minds of young children. It is vital that our children learn and explore the grotesque history of slavery, racism and anti-Semitism, but in the proper context of the school curriculum.”