Gitex is usually one of the biggest events that takes place in the Middle East region, typically attracting more than 100,000 delegates from all around the world. It is the event where the latest technologies are showcased, future technologies debated and startups given a platform to connect with investors and potential clients.
This year, the 40th edition of Gitex, held at the Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC), was touted as the world’s first technology-focused in-person event. Except it wasn’t, that accolade goes to Ai Everything, which took place in July this year. Like Gitex, Ai Everything intended to reconnect those in the technology community and reinvigorate Dubai’s conference and exhibitions calendar.
Most noticeable perhaps was the smaller visitor numbers, some 30,000 delegates had registered to attend and while all the halls of the DWTC were used, the event was combined with several others – GISEC, Future Blockchain Summit, Marketing Mania and the UAE Israel Future Digital Economy Summit.
What Gitex could claim as the first, was that it was the first major exhibition to host Israeli startups and companies in Dubai.
“The new relations between Israel and the UAE has opened a whole new market and whole lot of opportunities to collaborate,” said Omri Sorek, co-founder and CEO of Trusstor a construction technology startup. “We look at the UAE market has having three main verticals, first, there is a lot of funding opportunities here, the second vertical is creating partnerships for Israeli companies to have boots on the ground and the third is commercialising our products and servicing different companies that now have a whole new market to work with.”
Israeli startups were especially visible in the Gitex Future Stars section the part of the exhibition dedicated to startups. Last year, this section of the exhibition was dominated by startups and accelerators from Saudi Arabia as well as Emirati graduates with research projects focused primarily in deeptech, in need of investment.
Deeptech on display
The technology on display throughout Gitex this year was more sophisticated, there were more robots, more artificial intelligence solutions and a great deal more of augmented reality and virtual reality applications (AR/VR). Changing consumer habits, ongoing restrictions global travel and the need for social distancing have increased demand for such technology in healthcare, training and development, gaming and esports as well as culture and travel.
Last year, the telecoms operators focused on 5G and the speeds attainable on this frequency, this year, real-world use-cases for 5G were presented to visitors, primarily facial recognition. Using a combination of Russian and Chinese facial recognition technology, Etisalat was able to pinpoint delegates who were not wearing their masks properly. The technology is also sophisticated enough to recognise individuals wearing masks through an algorithm that detects the unique features of the eyes. Measuring the distance between delegates, those who routinely broke social distancing rules were also highlighted by the technology, which is already used by Dubai Police. This according to the guide at the Etisalat booth is what will ensure the security and safety of society going forward.
In fact technology solutions for government (govtech) featured heavily throughout the exhibition. Speaking during a panel at the Gitex Future Stars, Daniel Korski, co-founder and CEO of PUBLIC, a venture capital firm focused on helping startups transform public services, outlined the growing importance of govtech and healthtech in particular.
“Technology can do more than deliver pizza to you faster, it can play a great role in helping the public,” he said. “There is enormous appetite for this agenda, the possibility of doing things differently and we see that in varying degrees. [Places] like London and Estonia maybe ahead, but we are seeing interest in other countries.”
For Noah Raford, futurist and chief of global affairs at the Dubai Future Foundation, technology can provide the solution for many of the problems facing the world today.
“It’s not just an economic development approach, there are existential challenges facing all of us in the 21st Century – the changing nature of work, healthcare, pandemics, the only way we can tackle those is in experimentation and it happens with startups and technologies,” he said.