Tech experts share insights at Middle East forum on the digital future

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Taavi Kotka, first chief information officer of Proud Engineers, (right) and Amir Husain, founder and CEO of SparkCognition. (Supplied)
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Amir Husain, founder and CEO of SparkCognition. (Supplied)
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Experts say the advancement of artificial intelligence will nudge societies further into the digital realm. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 12 February 2020

Tech experts share insights at Middle East forum on the digital future

  • Saudi Arabia shifting gears as part of plan to embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Milken MEA Summit told
  • Advancement of AI and other 4IR elements will give rise to digital citizens and domains, expert says

ABU DHABI: All sectors of society will have to change their purpose and functions if they intend to maximize the benefits of the fourth industrial revolution, participants in a Milken Institute panel discussion in Abu Dhabi said on Tuesday.
The session, with the theme “The Fourth Industrial Revolution and the Transformation of Society,” addressed the various elements of a phenomenon now commonly referred to as 4IR.
Participants said the advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning, genome editing, augmented reality and other 4IR elements will nudge societies into the digital realm, promoting digital citizens and domains.
Among the countries shifting gears in an attempt to embrace the 4IR transformation in every sector is Saudi Arabia.
“It’s a brave new world,” said Ibrahim Saad Almojel, director general of the Saudi Arabia Industrial Development Fund (SIDF).
“The most ambitious goal of Vision 2030 is transforming the Kingdom into an economic and industrial powerhouse and a logistical hub.”
Almojel acknowledged that such changes are difficult due to their complexity and rapid pace alongside the struggle of keep tracking of them. The time allocated to understand the changes is also becoming shorter.
“The classical systems that exist are not sufficient anymore,” he said. “Customization and automation in manufacturing enable us to have an opportunity to leapfrog and set up a hub for advanced manufacturing and leverage our access to the market.”
Explaining the SIDF story, Almojel said it was set up 45 years ago as a “courageous player,” which evolved and expanded its sectors to include mining and logistics.
The fund then expanded its project offerings from financing mostly small and medium-sized enterprises and changed the way in which it conducted business, going from being passive to proactive.
The SIDF launched the Tanafusiya program, which enables industrial manufacturers to increase their energy efficiency and reduce their energy cost, while supporting operational improvements in manufacturing processes through technological upgrades and digitalization.
It also provided $800 million for the transformation of companies active in such fields as manufacturing, logistics, mining and energy.
“We believe that the private sector should lead, but we should make it easier for them,” Almojel said. Oil and gas is another area that will undergo massive changes with the 4IR revolution, he said.

FASTFACT

4IR includes mobile supercomputing, intelligent robots, self-driving cars, neuro-technological brain enhancements, genetic editing.

Amir Husain, founder and CEO of SparkCognition, which specializes in autonomy technology, said AI will be able to detect production-impacting events on oil rigs. Predictions can be transformed into scheduled maintenance, saving millions of dollars.
He said there is a basic chain of autonomy components: Perception, decision and action.
“AI applications can be enabled with one, two or all three components,” Husain said.
“In the particular case of oil and gas, you can do very well just by perceiving better than a human analyst looking at a set of gauges.”
Husain noted that AI is perceived as having power that is orders of magnitude “beyond our own power of perception.
“In that sense, it can find patterns where humans may not and in ways humans may not think of,” he said.
He added that: “In physical reality, there are huge numbers of variables and human beings approximate physical reality.
“AI is the first comprehensive system through which we can truly get closer to a real understanding of what reality is.”
Husain cited the defense industry as among those undergoing drastic changes with the ongoing shift towards autonomy.
Citing a recent demonstration by Boeing of an autonomous flight of an electronic warfare aircraft, he said: “Autonomy is being brought to the fore at a pace that changes the fundamental way in which wars are fought.”
Husain said intelligence will be the defining characteristic of sixth-generation aircraft, outmaneuvering human experts who have trained their entire lives in such scenarios.
“With automotives, when we think of self-driving cars, we think AI will drive the car but it’s just the beginning,” Husain said.
“When it does that stage, the car will become a cognitive information space and workspace because our attention will be focused on what the environment interacting with AI is producing.
“There’s a revolution (underway) in many industries.”
Estonia is widely lauded as the world’s most advanced digital country and is likely to play a leading role in shaping the 4IR.
On hand at the Milken MEA Summit on Tuesday was Taavi Kotka, the first chief information officer of Estonia-based Proud Engineers, who believes what will differentiate countries in the near future is the ability to combine data sets from the private sector with government information.
“The government has a huge amount of information about health care, education, taxes and the economy,” he said. “But only some countries — Northern European states, China and Singapore — can combine that data with private information.”
Kotka said the “definition of a country, the services available and the ways in which we operate” are changing. Under the circumstance, countries that are able to combine government and private sector data will be the winners of the future.
Even though countries like Sweden and China have different models of governance, the core of how data is collected, exchanged and combined is the same from an engineering perspective, he said.


Make or break days for global oil ahead of OPEC crunch meeting

Updated 08 April 2020

Make or break days for global oil ahead of OPEC crunch meeting

  • OPEC, led by Saudi Arabia, were on Thursday scheduled to take part in virtual discussions with non-OPEC members, led by Russia, about a possible deal to revive the OPEC+ alliance
  • On Friday, energy ministers from the G20 nations, under the presidency of Saudi Arabia, will convene in another digital forum that will bring in the third part of the global oil equation – the US

DUBAI: The global energy world, in the midst of crisis as demand slumps to unprecedented levels due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, faces two days that could make – or break – the oil industry for months to come.
Leading producers from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), led by Saudi Arabia, were on Thursday scheduled to take part in virtual discussions with non-OPEC members, led by Russia, about a possible deal to revive the OPEC+ alliance that fell apart in Vienna at the beginning of last month.
Then, on Friday, energy ministers from the G20 nations, under the presidency of Saudi Arabia, will convene in another digital forum that will bring in the third important part of the global oil equation – the US, currently the biggest oil producer in the world.
If no deal is reached from the two days of oil summits, the immediate prospect looms of a further fall in crude prices and, with global storage facilities already filling rapidly, the possibility of major exporters “shutting in” oil fields, jeopardizing future production.
Energy experts say the purpose of the meetings is two-fold: To reach agreement on how to limit the vast quantities of oil that are still being produced even as demand collapses; and to present some kind of united front in geopolitical terms in the face of the biggest economic recession since the 1930s.
The most visible immediate sign of any success from the meetings will be an increase in the price of crude oil on global markets. Brent crude, the Middle East benchmark, has lost nearly half its value in the past month.
The first aim – to try to balance oil supply and demand – is the more difficult. Global demand has fallen by at least 20 per cent from the usual daily consumption of around 100 million barrels, oil economists have calculated.
But, following the collapse of the OPEC+ deal that was putting a lid on supply, all producers have been pumping more crude. Saudi Arabia is producing more than 12 million barrels per day (bpd), a bigger volume than at any time in its history. All OPEC members, as well as Russia, have said they will increase output.
In this stand-off, US President Donald Trump intervened last week to say that he had spoken to Saudi and Russian leaders and that he “expected” a cut of 10 million, possibly even 15 million, bpd.
That looks like wishful thinking. For one thing, it would not rebalance markets. Anas Al-Hajji, managing partner of US-based Energy Outlook Advisers, said: “The amount of the cut is relatively small given the major drop in demand.”
There are also some difficult relationships to smooth over in the OPEC+ alliance. Saudi Arabia and Russia exchanged angry statements last weekend, each accusing the other of starting the oil price war. Iran, with big reserves but hampered by US sanctions from exporting in large quantities, said that it might not take part in the conference.
The choreography of the two meetings also presents hurdles. The US will not be present at the OPEC+ meeting, but American Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette said he would take part in the G20 event.
Because it is a free-market industry, America cannot order its oil producers to reduce output, but most analysts are agreed any attempt to rebalance global supply would be impossible without a US contribution.
By going first, Saudi Arabia and Russia are “playing blind” without knowing what the Americans are thinking. Neither would want to agree big price-restoring cuts only for US producers – under big financial pressure at current levels – to swoop back into the market.
This week there have been some signs that the Americans are considering their own versions of cutbacks. The biggest US company, Exxon Mobil, said it would reduce capital expenditure on future projects by 30 percent; the US Energy Information Administration said oil production would fall by nearly 1 million bpd this year, in response to falling demand and financial pressures.
But even if the Saudis and Russians cut substantially alongside other big OPEC producers such as the UAE, and the Americans enter a long-term pattern of falling demand, it is still hard to see how cuts could reach the 10 million barrels Trump “expects,” let alone 15 million.
J. P. Morgan, the big US investment bank, said that it expects OPEC+ to come up with combined cuts of about 4.3 million barrels, most of that coming from Saudi Arabia, Russia and the UAE. “If it’s 4.3 million it only puts off the day when global storage gets filled completely,” said Robin Mills, CEO of Qamar Energy consultancy.
Storage facilities are nearly at the brim. Malek Azizeh, director of the premium facilities at the Fujairah Oil Terminal in the UAE, joked that he was going to hang a sign on the terminal gates: “Thanks, but no tanks.”