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Smart Dubai platform is the backbone of the city's transformation

Aisha bin Bishr, director general at Smart Dubai Office, talks about the Smart Data platform and soon-to-be-unveiled UAE Pass, a digital ID and signature which is being touted as one of the foundations a city needs to transform

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Following the launch of the Smart Data platform, the Smart Dubai Office has revealed it is working with key technology and business partners to develop “UAE Pass”, a digital ID and digital signature which is being touted as one of the foundations that any city needs to transform.

Dubai is already pioneering smart city initiatives in the Middle East and is increasingly becoming a global leader.

In 2017, Smart Dubai was selected by the United Nations (UN) and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) to develop a global index for smart cities starting with pilots in the emirate.

Said Aisha bin Bishr, director general at Smart Dubai Office, speaking at the Global Smart Cities conference, held in GITEX Technology Week 2018 where Smart Dubai was also exhibiting.

“Of course, we have the Emirates ID (UAE ID) but the digital ID and digital signature we will unveil will be one of the foundations that any city needs to transform in its embrace of the future.

“We are working with our partners to make this a national initiative, so instead of something just for Dubai, we will be the national operator of the UAE Pass.”

At the exhibition, visitors also saw a number of proof of concepts concerning blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI) that are available today.

A year of transformation

Bin Bishr said this year was one of real transformation for Smart Dubai and the city, as many of these technologies have matured significantly in terms of, for instance, the language behind the blockchain and AI.

“By 2020, you will be able to see many applicable government applications that rely on these technologies. I’m happy with the pace of transformation so far. No other city in the world has such a dedicated transformation agenda.”

One of the things that has been a milestone achievement for Dubai’s transformation has been the Dubai Metro, the world’s largest unmanned and automated rail service.

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Bin Bishr said the smart platform that hosts the city’s data is the reason for the Dubai Metro’s success. “It is already live, and today, many of the Emirate’s open and confidential data sets are hosted on the platform. Now we’re moving from simply hosting these data sets to utilising them,” she said. “We’re focusing on data science now to see what we can do with data in terms of modelling and algorithms.”

Bin Bishr explained that the Dubai Data Establishment is in fact ahead of the game in terms of proof of concepts and projects, many of which rely on big data that is being generated from systems and the internet of things (IoT). “Then there is the AI we are developing on top,” she said.

She emphasised that it’s important to understand that without data you cannot operate AI or even the blockchain. “So this smart platform is really the digital backbone of the city and pivotal to the eventual transformation of Dubai,” said Bin Bishr. “In the last few years, I’ve seen this goal progressing from being an idea, to strategy, blueprint, a physical platform and today applications.”

Technologies like blockchain, AI and big data all require education and investments in human capital and Smart Dubai has already undertaken steps to nurture talent.

“Last month we partnered with Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and launched a data science masters degree programme,” she said. “This is in parallel with many other executive diplomas that the Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Government has introduced to educate government employees, as well as the private sector in how to make sense of these technologies.”

“We work with many local private sector firms such as Majid al Futtaim, Emirates and a number of others, all of whom are keen to understand how Industry 4.0 tools can help them in their own industries.”

Investment on behalf of government entities

She explained that one of the things that have been done with Smart Dubai is the investment in the Smart Data Platform and these emerging technologies on behalf of all government entities. “If they were to do it by themselves, it would have been very expensive, especially considering that these are all nascent technologies.

“In our programme, to have a centralised platform for all, this will expedite the implementation of these advanced technologies.”

One of the things that has received praise globally is the UAE’s creation of the Ministry of Artificial Intelligence. At the same time, some sectors of the IT industry have expressed concern whether the industry and people should be careful in the pursuit of AI.

Bin Bishr said: “We are already using AI in our devices and our systems. But even in machines and robots, it is the responsibility of every human to learn how to survive. We need to learn how to read and write if we want a better future. We needed to learn how to use computers to have better positions at work.”

Similarly with AI, there is a need to be open minded to understand how this technology can improve peoples’ lives. “I’ve always been open minded about technology, and have been inspired by it in my personal life,” she said. “I like to be challenged, and maybe that's why I'm at Smart Dubai.”

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