Omar Al Olama, the world’s first AI minister, has issued a stern warning about the potentially severe and enduring repercussions of excessive government regulation on artificial intelligence (AI).
He urged that these potential consequences might be sufficiently significant to draw parallels with the destiny of the Ottoman Empire, which relinquished its position as a symbol of advancement due to its refusal to adopt the printing press.
During his address at the Fortune Global Forum in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, this United Arab Emirates cabinet official drew upon a historical cautionary tale to underscore his point.
During the medieval period, the Islamic caliphate achieved the zenith of civilization, attracting esteemed scholars from across the globe and spearheading the development of groundbreaking fields like algebra.
Nevertheless, when the empire rejected the printing press in 1515, it turned its back on mathematics and science, ultimately relinquishing its status as a prominent cultural hub.
The invention of Johannes Gutenberg in the 1450s had democratized literacy by making books affordable through mass production in the West. Conversely, in the Middle East, the Ottoman empire in Istanbul viewed the device as a challenge to the established order.
The Minister of AI in the UAE noted that the challenges currently confronting policymakers regarding AI, including concerns about job displacement, misinformation, and the potential for social disruption, closely parallel the difficulties encountered by the empire’s historical leader, Sultan Selim I.
Omar Al Olama, aged 33 and recognized in September as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential figures in AI, contended that it is the responsibility of governments to maintain a balanced stance on this contentious matter.
He emphasized the importance for policymakers to guarantee that their citizens are not left behind in the pursuit of progress, especially as the private sector is compelled to compete to remain viable in the business landscape.
He said: “What we need to be having is a dialogue about, how do you upskill professionals within governments to be able to regulate in the most effective manner to ensure their population is not left behind.”
Al Olama outlined the UAE’s strategy, which centers on the “three Rs” – reskill, retool, and retire.
Employees whose jobs are at risk of disruption due to AI are encouraged to acquire new skills that are in demand in the workforce. Those who continue in their current roles will receive support to leverage AI effectively and enhance their productivity. Additionally, older workers who are not suitable for retraining will be given the option to retire early.
He added: “What happens here is that people feel like they have a choice, people feel this is not something dictated on them. This is something they can actually play a part in or [watch] from the sidelines. It’s better for us to be proactive rather than reactive.”