Agile workforce needed for future job market, Abu Dhabi forum told

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Omar Sultan Al-Olama, UAE's minister of state for artificial intelligence. (AN photo/Huda Bashatah)
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Jamil Asfour, executive director of technology partnerships at the Abu Dhabi Investment Office. (AN photo/Huda Bashatah)
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Updated 12 December 2019

Agile workforce needed for future job market, Abu Dhabi forum told

  • ‘Some people will be optimized by AI, and others will be replaced by it,’ says UAE minister
  • Dubai-based think tank calculates that ‘85% of jobs that will exist in 2030 do not exist today’

DUBAI: Governments need to ensure that they have an agile workforce to take on the jobs of tomorrow, the UAE’s minister of state for artificial intelligence (AI) said on the second day of the SALT conference in Abu Dhabi.
Omar Sultan Al-Olama did not mince words while talking about the future of the job market, during a discussion on “The implications of advanced AI.” He said: “Some people will be optimized by AI, and others will be replaced by it.”
Fields such as law, medicine and diagnostics will be significantly impacted by the technology in the next five years, he added.
Citing a report by the Institute for the Future, a Dubai-based think tank, he said 85 percent of the jobs that will exist in 2030 do not exist today.
As debate rages worldwide on whether AI is stealing or creating jobs, Al-Olama said technology will help improve and create jobs rather than displace employees.
As a case in point, he cited the launch of ATMs in the US in 1985, when the number of bank tellers was 485,000.
By the time the number of ATMs had risen to 352,000 in 2002, many people expected to see a drop in the number of tellers. Instead, it rose to 527,000.
However, that may no longer be the case today. “Bus and truck drivers are under the biggest threat of AI deployment,” Al-Olama said, adding that 16 million people could lose their jobs “if autonomous trucks became mainstream tomorrow.”
Taking part in the same panel discussion, Jamil Asfour, executive director of technology partnerships at the Abu Dhabi Investment Office, said while it is inevitable that each sector will be affected by AI, the speed of adoption will differ.
“If I could bet big on which sectors will be impacted by AI first, I’d say health care, transportation and the financial sector,” he added.
These sectors require automation, transparency and efficiency to manage their large volumes of data processing, Asfour said.
Al-Olama said there is an urgent need to invest in transformation of education systems, from the traditional teaching format of memorizing to a more agile system that meets the criteria of future jobs.
He described the limited class of AI-skilled talent today as “digital nomads” who are well-paid and in high demand.
“We need to understand that the type of talent working in this field is different to the talent found in other sectors. Digital nomads are highly skilled, educated individuals who can work virtually,” he said.
Countries that want to attract such talent must be able to offer them a good standard of life, easy mobility, the right infrastructure, the freedom to work and access to policymakers, said Al-Olama.
“If we look at the fundamental requirements for attracting this type of talent, I’d say the UAE is among the top countries,” he added.
As evidence, he said the UAE has been listed as the country with the “highest net inflow of AI talent” in a report published by the World Bank and LinkedIn.

Coronavirus tracing app stirs rare privacy backlash in Qatar

Updated 15 min 14 sec ago

Coronavirus tracing app stirs rare privacy backlash in Qatar

  • Version forces Android users to permit access to their picture and video galleries

DOHA: Privacy concerns over Qatar’s coronavirus contact tracing app, a tool that is mandatory on pain of prison, have prompted a rare backlash and forced officials to offer reassurance and concessions.

Like other governments around the world, Qatar has turned to mobile phones to trace people’s movements and track who they come into contact with, allowing officials to monitor coronavirus infections and alert people at risk of contagion.

The apps use Bluetooth radio signals to “ping” nearby devices, which can be contacted subsequently if a user they have been near develops symptoms or tests positive, but the resultant unprecedented access to users’ location data has prompted fears about state surveillance.

Qatar’s version goes considerably further — it forces Android users to permit access to their picture and video galleries, while also allowing the app to make unprompted calls.

“I can’t understand why it needs all these permissions,” wrote Ala’a on a Facebook group popular with Doha’s large expat community — one of several such forums peppered with concerns over the app.

Justin Martin, a journalism professor based in Qatar, warned authorities in a tweet not to “erode” trust by enforcing “an app with such alarming permissions.”

The government launched the “Ehteraz” app, meaning “precaution,” in April and on Friday it became mandatory for all citizens and legal residents to install it on their phones.

Noncompliance is punishable by up to three years in jail — the same term as for failing to wear a mask in public — in a state battling one of the world’s highest per capita infection rates.

Almost 44,000 of Qatar’s 2.75 million people have tested positive for the respiratory disease — 1.6 percent of the population — and 23 people have died. Security forces manned checkpoints across Qatar on Sunday to ensure use of the app, local media reported, alongside checking for use of masks.

Criticism of the government is rare in Qatar and laws prohibit disrespect toward officials. However, officials have said that the law on the app will be enforced with “understanding.”

The app’s simple interface displays colored bar-codes containing the user’s ID number — green for healthy, red for COVID-19 positive and yellow for quarantined cases. Grey indicates suspected cases or those who have come into contact with infected individuals.

Mohamed bin Hamad Al-Thani, a director at Qatar’s Health Ministry, said that data gathered is “completely confidential.”

“There will be an update for the Ehteraz app to address the issues of concern and further improve its efficiency,” he added in an interview on state television on Thursday.

A new version of the software was duly released for Apple and Android on Sunday, promising “minor bug fixes,” but without indicating that the invasive aspects had been removed.

The app was introduced just as authorities across the Muslim world warned that gatherings during Ramadan and the Eid Al-Fitr festival  could lead to a surge of infections.

“There are two key concerns ... with the app,” said Human Rights Watch researcher Hiba Zayadin.

It “is highly invasive, with a range of permissions allowing the government access to things that are not needed for the purpose of contact tracing, permissions that are unnecessary and present a concerning invasion of privacy.” But also “many migrant workers in the country don’t have compatible phones that would allow them to download the app and comply.”

Online reviews have also complained that the app drains battery power and cannot be installed on older iPhone handsets. Some have looked for ways around the policy. “People are spending money and waiting in queues just to get burner phones to protect their privacy,” wrote expat engineer Janko on one forum, referring to cheap handsets that could subsequently be disposed of. There have been reports of a few users being wrongly classified as “quarantined” or “suspected cases.”

“There’s no need for photo access and other things. But it could be a good tool. It is a good way to prioritize whom to test,” technology lawyer Rahul Matthan said. But “to work, they need a large number of people to use it. If people are dissuaded because of the app’s overreach, then that would be a worry.”