Middle East and UAE businesses should embrace artificial intelligence

19 December 2017 Consultancy-me.com 5 min. read
More news on

Gerard Gallagher, Head of Advisory at EY for the Middle East, as well as Africa and India, explains why businesses in the Middle East and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) cannot afford to ignore disruptive digitisation and artificial intelligence.

If you think you won’t face disruption, it’s not because you won’t – it’s because you don’t yet know how it will happen. Recently we read the appointment of the UAE minister for artificial intelligence (AI). It set off a lot of discussions (and excitement) on social media networks – not to mention substantial press coverage. This not only mainstreamed AI in a way not done before in the region but also amplified the conversations around AI. It’s a major signal that underlines the commitment to innovation in the UAE.

We all knew that AI was going to be a game changer. It is hard to overstate the possibilities of AI. It can autonomously assimilate inputs, perceive and understand a need and deliver the best possible decision. It is already being deployed in call centers to answer basic queries, in autonomous cars to transform mobility, and in smartphones as a personal assistant. The next step is the combination of AI’s autonomous reasoning with ‘deep learning’. By learning from every new input and experience, AI adds to the efficacy of subsequent actions.


Together, AI and robotics will combine greater decision-making power with the ability to execute. Organisations could see exponential improvements as software and hardware develops and costs decline. AI’s deep learning and robotic automation also bring closer the possibility of ‘singularity’: the point at which machine thought supersedes human capability. This raises many profound questions. For example, when AI controls decisions, who controls your company?

Middle East and UAE businesses should embrace artificial intelligence

It sounds like science fiction, but consensus suggests that, within a decade, AI might solve problems that humans struggle to conceptualise. And investors and industries are seeing the significance of AI.

AI could change the rules of business generally, and professional services like ours in particular. With the rapid developments in machine learning, data mining and cognitive computing, the next decade promises to see huge leaps forward.

It’s not just businesses and commercial enterprises. Even the healthcare sector. Much of medicine involves heuristic, rules-based problem solving based on symptoms and test results. This is fertile ground for AI. Today’s decision-support tools could soon be replaced by sophisticated algorithms that diagnose and prescribe — with arguably greater accuracy and less random variability than their human counterparts.


Artificial intelligence and robotics are reinventing the workforce too. And changing preferences and expectations – most notably in the millennial generation. This is altering consumption patterns and demand for everything from cars to real estate. While the excitement over the potential applications of AI is understandable, there are some misconceptions – and indeed fears – developing. Central to that is the fear that AI will in fact replace humans in the value chain – doing the tasks we currently do, but faster and more accurately, and thus rendering many of us redundant.

Let me say this very clearly – it won’t. But we will need to understand the relevant industry, and AI, blockchain and machine learning – as well as grasping how all these disruptive elements work together in a faster-paced, more complex world – to stay relevant in our jobs. These technologies, if applied thoughtfully and effectively, will improve quality, reduce risk and enhance confidence. In fact, the biggest challenge goes beyond the technology: it is about change management and the potential confusion over how AI is applied.

But we should all be reassured; AI can do a lot, but there’s also a lot it cannot do, and we cannot rely on it to deliver skepticism and judgment. Something that is our exclusive preserve.

In a world where everything is changing, the biggest risk is standing still. When responding to disruption, businesses cannot afford to fall back on old solutions. Embracing creativity, entrepreneurial spirit, diversity and inclusivity will enable businesses to challenge the prevailing paradigm and create new business models. By building robust and responsive ecosystems and driving collaboration in previously unexpected places, they can meet people’s evolving demands.

The era of being afraid to make mistakes and take risks is over. Over the next 5 to 10 years, those who are bold and able to embrace disruption – and transform the way we all operate – will be the winners. The future may not be here yet but AI brings it closer, and it looks very exciting.