Artificial intelligence (AI) has permeated through almost every industry and sector, changing our daily interactions with technology whether we are aware of it or not. The development of AI is currently dominated by companies based in the US and China, whose tech has the capacity to alter not only the global economy, but society too. A PwC study suggests that AI has the potential to contribute up to $15.7 trillion to the global economy in 2030, with just 2 per cent of this expected to benefit the Middle East and North Africa, equivalent to $320 billion.
Aliah Yacoub, an AI philosopher at Egypt-based Synapse Analytics, a data science and AI company, believes the region needs to pay greater attention to developments in AI technology. She has established techQualia, an online platform that offers free, accessible data about AI for non-academic readers.
Can you tell us more about techQualia and its mission?
techQualia is a platform that provides both public and experts with technical and analytical articles about AI, like how we can leverage AI solutions and streamline business operations, and what are the latest advancements in the tech world. It was launched [last year] and is published in both languages, Arabic and English, to localise our content and create an AI learning space that is free, accessible and exhaustive for all types of readers, in a time where we desperately need to democratise AI in all aspects of life.
Our articles range from the best tools or computational graphs on how to use AI and credit scoring in business, to historicising or deconstructing AI. It is so important to me to reach the non-academic people and provide them with the knowledge they desperately need to leverage the AI knowledge in Egypt and the entire region.
What is philosophical artificial intelligence?
There are two types of artificial intelligence AI, classic AI, which is an objective analytical form, while philosophical AI is simply the same way that a philosopher and cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett would say: “AI is not distantly bound up to philosophy, AI is simply philosophy”.
Philosophical AI asks the same questions philosophers would ask: how is human knowledge possible? Is it possible to artificially replicate and recreate it in machines? Is the human brain essentially a computer or is there more at play? Can a machine have mental states and qualia? It basically studies the nature and origin of human knowledge and tries to understand how the human brain functions and what intelligence or cognition or consciousness they know.
Philosophical AI helps us understand how to reproduce them in machines. For example, deep neural networks try to mimic brain architecture, where all human cognition lies, in a way that helps us understand the basics of AI, machine learning to data science, data privacy, or the latest trends in neuroscience and countless social commentaries.
Has AI found its way to the public in the Middle East?
Unfortunately, I would say no; the majority do not understand what AI really is. I think there is a very serious gap in knowledge that needs to be bridged, if we are keen on advancing any further. The truth is that people don't really know how it works or its implications on a wider societal scale. It's true that everyone knows that it [AI] is transforming around the world, but how exactly it is going to manifest itself globally and regionally, no one is quite sure about that.
There are also a lot of complex political and economic and societal structures that make the manifestation of this digital revolution very different from one country to the other.
Is Egypt having its AI moment?
Of course it is; the entire region has been taking bold steps towards creating an AI ecosystem. The UAE, obviously, is at the forefront of this revolution, but Egypt is no stranger to this AI race; last September, Egypt advanced 55 places on the Government AI Readiness Index in 2020, ranking 56th among 172 countries. I think that reflects the major efforts of the government to adopt AI on a wider scale. The move towards the industrial application of AI has seen so many setbacks, however, business owners are striving to automate their processes and leverage AI solutions that streamline their operations across all kinds of industries.
In the past few years, specifically in 2019, Egypt made a major evolution in developing the information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure, alongside the billions of dollars of investments that have been poured into this field, which contributed in leveraging the AI industry in Egypt. Also, the personal data protection law has finally come into effect, which helped in regulating and controlling the data used in AI applications.
Which industry can benefit the most from applying AI?
All industries can benefit from AI deployments, such as pharmaceutical companies, the fashion industry, healthcare, education and financial services, malls and recreation services.
Healthcare services, for example, can use AI to implement better algorithms to help healthcare workers give patients the best kind of care, or invent robotic devices, things like that.
All business owners have this incredible urge to utilise this pivotal technology but they do not know how it works. So, it is very difficult to balance their expectations and what actually can be achieved or done.
How can we prepare the next generation of AI experts?
The first step is always going to be education and that is something that the UAE has done. Then it’s from the ground up workshops and initiatives, a lot of educational efforts rather than formal education. There should be more platforms, more engagement, we should be building a community of people who truly understand what that means and how this can be best utilised and people who can be wary about the multitude of cautionary tales like algorithmic intelligence that has gone wrong.
I find that AI knowledge is very inaccessible; if you are doing cutting-edge research about something that has wide implications like AI, you will be required to subscribe to some journal or a publication that is full of jargon and linguistically inapprehensible. So, it is important for me to talk about AI in a simple, free manner. AI will not help us if we don't learn it, so, I feel this kind of responsibility to cultivate a kind of community that advances this kind of AI literacy.
Should we be worried about the future of AI?
Everything you hear about AI is either induced panic or peace. People either have grand expectations that are usually positive and then there is the absolute panic where people cower in the face of such a technical, technological revolution. The only way that we can balance this out is if we fill this gap with more knowledge, more understanding so that people can really get a grip on what is happening right now.