Knowledge Summit in Dubai shows way to navigate pitfalls of Fourth Industrial Revolution

Sunday 03/12/2017
A focus on the future. (From L-R) Chief Technical Adviser of the Arab Knowledge Project Hany Torky, UNDP Assistant Secretary-General Michael O’Neill and MBRF CEO Jamal bin Huwaireb at the Knowledge Summit in Dubai. (Arab Knowledge Project)

Dubai - Arab countries can play a big role in the Fourth In­dustrial Revolution but to particpate govern­ments need to show the will to rise to the challenges of the digital age.
This affirming note was struck by Jordanian Prime Minister Hani al-Mulki during opening remarks at the Knowledge Summit 2017 in Dubai on the theme of “Decision-making in the Era of the Fourth In­dustrial Revolution.” “The Fourth Industrial Revolution stands out because it includes all people, all societies and governments, unlike the previous revolutions, which were limited to certain specific sec­tors,” Mulki said.
“Arab governments must work to develop their operations to suit the changes that this revolution brings and to channel them to serve Arab societies.”
The Arab world was among the early drivers of the scientific age in philosophy, mathematics, astron­omy and medicine but fell behind during the industrial revolutions that followed.
Mulki said improving education was the key to benefit from Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies.
“We shouldn’t be afraid. We must develop our capabilities and hu­manise the technology,” he said. “We cannot let what happened in the previous revolutions happen again… without any contribution from our end. The UAE has made great strides in that regard and its successes are a source of pride for all the countries of the region.”
The summit — the fourth edition of this annual event — was hosted by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Foundation (MBRF) and brought together lead­ing figures from Arab governments, the United Nations, researchers and academics to deliberate on the op­portunities posed by the Fourth In­dustrial Revolution.
The summit covered artificial in­telligence, big data, cyber-security, nanotechnology, gene editing, hu­man organ printing, block chain, media and publishing and fake news. Debates focused on how countries in the region could take advantage of breakthrough tech­nologies to transform themselves into knowledge societies.
Among announcements at the Knowledge Summit was MBRF be­ginning the “Literacy in the Arab World” initiative to combat and eradicate illiteracy in the region.
The Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Awards went to the Saudi-based MiSK Founda­tion, Mitsubishi Research Institute Chairman Hiroshi Komiyama and Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America and CEO/Co-founder of Teach for All. The award seeks to raise awareness of the importance of knowledge and to recognise most notable efforts and achievements of individuals and institutions to pro­mote knowledge-centric societies.
The results of the first Global Knowledge Index, an initiative by MBRF in collaboration with UN Development Programme (UNDP) covering more than 130 countries, were announced at the summit. Switzerland, Singapore and Fin­land took the top three spots with the United Arab Emirates leading the Middle East region at 25th.
The index is based on a combi­nation of higher education; pre-university education; technical/ vocational training and continued education; information and com­munication technology; scientific research and innovation; and eco­nomics in addition to a general in­dicator of enabling environments.
The index considers 133 vari­ables covering vital sectors in the country, such as enrolment, gradu­ation and dropout rates in schools; literacy; unemployment; life ex­pectancy at birth; e-government; political stability; regulatory and legal frameworks; patents; private-sector indicators; quality and avail­ability of human resources among other criteria.
MBRF CEO Jamal bin Huwaireb said all governments could ben­efit from the data. He recalled the UAE’s journey to almost full lit­eracy, stressing that, though there were many reasons for the gap be­tween the Arabs and the rest of the world, at the heart of it was lack of data.
“Through the Knowledge Index, we can address the problem of sector-specific spending. We want to prove that the seven sectors are complementary and should actu­ally be treated as one, by which we can reduce the gap,” Huwaireb said.
Michael O’Neill, UNDP assis­tant secretary-general, expressed excitement about the Knowledge Project and the Global Knowledge Index, emphasising the impor­tance of data. “We need data to ini­tiate policies for sustainable devel­opment,” he said.
O’Neill said that collaboration between the United Nations and the UAE led to initiatives such as the Arab Knowledge Index, Arab Reading Index and the Knowledge Portal — Knowledge4All. “The next stage in our partnership is the [memorandum of understanding] that was signed with MBRF to com­bat illiteracy,” he said.