AI in Egypt: Turning threats into opportunities

Given the complexity of AI technology, it has the potential to not only exacerbate global and regional developmental gaps, but also inequality within societies (Photo Courtesy of Pixnio)

The debate around artificial intelligence (AI) is rather vehement and remains largely unpredictable. The question is no longer whether AI and automation will help alter the way machines work, but rather: will it be a direct cause for job loss?

Multiple countries have already developed national strategies that set priorities and goals for the use of AI. Currently, about 20 countries have released their AI strategies including Kenya, India and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Egypt has also started establishing its own national AI strategy, in an attempt to respond to local needs. This gives the country the opportunity of setting its own priorities, before the technology catches up and imposes itself, according to a paper drafted by the Access to Knowledge for Development (A2K4D) research center.

The future of AI in Egypt
AI can be used to have a positive impact in developing countries in multiple sectors, according to Forbes.

A paper titled “The potential impact of AI in the Middle East”, drafted by PwC, forecasts that 7.7% of Egypt’s total gross domestic product (GDP) will be sourced from AI by 2030. Applications of AI in Egypt are expected to grow at an average annual rate of 25.5% until 2030.

Digging into a potential national AI strategy
Minister of Communications and Information Technology (ICT) Amr Talaat repeatedly stated that an AI strategy is at the top of the ministry’s agenda.

Talaat announced that Egypt’s strategy has two key pillars. The first one is establishing an AI academy in collaboration with the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research to enhance the scientific base. Secondly, the strategy will focus on the technology’s practical application to produce and export AI-based solutions.

During a discussion organized by A2K4D and Internet Masr, Sally Radwan, who is working together with the Ministry of ICT to develop a national strategy for AI, emphasized that the narrative around AI needs to change with policy makers and the population. She said that an AI strategy for Egypt is now becoming a reality after presidential directives.

“The tagline for the strategy is turning threats into opportunities,” Radwan said. “The technological gap has never been so small, and in AI, countries have only recently started.”

Radwan went on to say that there are two main objectives for Egypt’s strategy, of which the first one is to be a key player in the adoption of AI. The second objective is to boost the country’s soft power and have a strong position of leadership amongst African, Arab and developing countries when it comes to topics like AI ethics, and the social and economic impact of AI in these countries.

Radwan added that Egypt will be very selective about the domains where AI will be initially applied.

Why a tailored, national strategy is of paramount importance
Given the complexity of AI technology, it has the potential to not only exacerbate global and regional developmental gaps, but also inequality within societies. Hence, national strategies should help avert the crisis that may be potentially imposed by AI.

The threats of AI are also caused by the lack of an ethical code, according to Wamda. One of the main concerns that also accompanies the debate is job loss and how machines could take over the role of humans in the labor market – a direct danger on the middle class in particular.

“Such an unprecedented rise in unemployment in the Middle East can easily lead to protests and revolutions and a jobless population will reshape society and politics as we know it,” the article points out.

“Our entire economy is based on a pyramid structure,” Radwan explained. The people on top of the pyramid are economically and intellectually privileged, but the more one descends, the more these privileges decrease and the more the number of people increases.

The application of AI raises multiple questions on whether the pyramid structure can change, as the technology will affect not just factory workers, but also call center operators or doctors, for example. That is why interdisciplinary work becomes increasingly important.

“It is not binary – it is not a question of whether we should apply AI or not. It is about where we are going to play and what our competitive advantage is,” Radwan concludes.

 

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