Are city governments ready to embrace the AI revolution?

By H.E. Younus Al Nasser

H.E. Younus Al Nasser, Chief Executive, Dubai Data & Statistics Establishment, Digital Dubai, sheds light on how the burgeoning global hub has been advancing AI innovation and talent attraction, offering a roadmap for cities around the world that seek to harness frontier technology to maximise their potential.

The full potential of AI for reshaping urban landscapes cannot be harnessed without a supportive government providing the right infrastructure and regulations, a co-operative and symbiotic relationship between public and private entities and a conducive AI start-up and scale-up ecosystem. Image: H.E. Younus Al Nasser.

Over the last decade, artificial intelligence (AI) has been a matter of strategic importance for many governments and businesses around the world.


From guidelines for ethical AI adoptions, the growing adoption of generative AI and chat-bots and autonomous vehicles and flying taxis, the influence of this transformational technology continues to expand to various aspects of daily life.


We however know this is just the beginning of AI. The full potential of AI for reshaping urban landscapes cannot be harnessed without a supportive government providing the right infrastructure and regulations, a co-operative and symbiotic relationship between public and private entities and a conducive AI start-up and scale-up ecosystem.


UAE's AI journey began in October 2017 with the appointment of the world's first AI Minister H.E. Omar Al Olama and the launch of the UAE AI Strategy. Image: World Economic Forum. 

The UAE, and particularly Dubai, stand out as a great textbook examples to draw inspiration from.


The UAE’s Artificial Intelligence journey began in October 2017 with the launch of the UAE Artificial Intelligence Strategy and the appointment of H.E. Omar Al Olama as the world’s first Minister of Artificial Intelligence.


The UAE Artificial Intelligence Strategy 2031 include 8 key objectives which collectively aim to build UAE’s position as a global hub for artificial intelligence attracting global talent and research capabilities, whilst providing a data-driven infrastructure to support AI experiments, and optimizing AI governance and regulations.


Over the last two decades, Dubai has heavily invested in innovative and seamless e-Government systems and services, building the physical infrastructure, alluring global technology experts and ensuring city-wide data is collected with people-centric classifications to make the city ready to fully harness the power of Artificial Intelligence and other emerging technologies.

In 2023, the city’s leadership launched The Dubai Centre for Artificial Intelligence, which serves as a testing ground for innovative AI technologies, leveraging them for societal benefit with the goal of making a tangible impact. This centre aims to establish a blueprint for driving the proliferation of generative AI applications within the city's public sector.


Taking Dubai’s AI ambitions one step further is DubaiAI, a ChatGPT powered digital city concierge, which is essentially the government’s flagship one-stop-shop app for all city services which hosts over 250 services from 35 government and semi government entities.


Launched by Digital Dubai, the unique platform is creating a new model for fostering effective cooperation and futuristic ideas that will accelerate sustainable economic growth and development in line with the Dubai Economic Agenda D33, which aims to contribute AED 100 billion (US$27.2 billion) annually to the city's economy through digital transformation projects.

DubaiAI is a ChatGPT powered digital concierge launched by Digital Dubai that is currently hosting over 250 services from 35 entities. Image: Canva.


Digital Dubai is also testing Robotic Process Automation tools in day-to-day administration tasks within the Human Resources, Finance and Procurement process of Dubai Government entities.


Such efforts ensure greater efficiency and faster response times for government employees, citizens, residents, and businesses.


Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) has developed several innovations using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to improve the efficiency of operations in Dubai’s water network, monitor cyberattacks, leaks and faults, and isolate and repair them immediately.


Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) is using new AI-powered tools to monitor and assess the performance of delivery drivers and testing robo-taxis and AI-powered police patrols and develops a prototype for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).


Meanwhile, robotic-assisted surgeries, robotic pharmacy services, robotic telemedicine and AI-enabled biomedical research. 


All of these advances are transforming Dubai and elevating its status as a global smart city that is pioneering and leveraging cutting-edge technologies to improve the way we live and work.


As a city with its eyes fixed on the future, Dubai is walking the talk when it comes to nurturing a thriving innovation ecosystem as its increasing attracts AI investment and businesses from abroad.

Dubai ranked second globally in attracting greenfield FDI projects in the AI space during the first nine months of 2023, while it placed ninth for securing FDI capital in the same sector, Financial Times “fDi markets” data shows.

The value of AI-related FDI capital between surged by more than 85% from over US$224 million in 2019 to exceed US$416 million in the first nine months of 2023. 163 FDI projects in this sphere were launched over this period, creating over 5,200 jobs, according to data from Dubai FDI Monitor.

The US was the top source country for FDI projects in AI within Dubai during this time, accounting for a 36% share of total projects, followed by India with 14%, the UK at 9% and China with 5.5%.

Among the key advantages boosting Dubai’s global appeal are initiatives like Sandbox Dubai, which are designed to provide innovative companies and entrepreneurs the opportunities and platforms they need to test and commercialise new technologies.

The growing number of accelerators surfacing across Dubai is another strong indicator of growing appeal and potential of the city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

The Dubai Centre for AI’s Accelerator Programmes alone attracted 615 startups from 55 countries after its launch last year, supporting the development of AI-based solutions to current and future challenges.

Meanwhile, Dubai International Financial Centre, Dubai’s financial free zone, launched a ground-breaking Artificial Intelligence (AI) and coding license in 2023 in cooperation with the UAE Artificial Intelligence Office.

Such progressive developments complement the competitive advantages that Dubai offers innovative AI startups and scale-ups, including 100% foreign ownership, a business-friendly regulatory environment long-term golden visas for specialised tech talent and entrepreneurs, access to emerging markets and a maturing venture capital landscape, among many others.


By prioritising public-private partnerships, enhancing regulations and policies for ecosystem growth, fostering AI scale-ups, and embracing the potential of AI and IoT, Dubai is not only shaping its own future but also offering a roadmap for other cities around the world that seek to leverage AI technologies and data as building blocks of hyper connectivity to connect government, business and all segments of society to expand its innovation ecosystem.


H.E. Younus Al Nasser is a globally recognized leader in planning and implementing city-wide digital transformation, and building holistic data ecosystems. Currently serving as the Chief Executive Officer of the Dubai Data and Statistics Establishment, part of the Dubai Digital Authority, Al Nasser has played an instrumental role in Dubai’s digital transformation over the past 7 years.


As the CEO of the Dubai Data and Statistics Establishment, Al Nasser has overseen the creation of Data Governance models for the city creating policies and standards for data sharing, created a network of Data Champions across Dubai Government and SemiGovernment entities, built the city’s first Open Data sharing platform (Dubai Pulse) and has also charted the future of the city’s data ecosystem by creating a Private-Sector Engagement Strategy.


Al Nasser is also a Member of the UAE AI Council leading the development of the UAE National Data Strategy, and is the Vice-Chair of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Global Councils for SDG 11.