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Building a Nation Powered by Artificial Intelligence

A head shot of Safder Nazir, Huawei's Senior Vice President for Digital Industries.

Safder Nazir

2020-09-30 1788
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Digital transformation — a necessity of the modern economy — has become a crucial strategic goal for both governments and businesses, seeking to secure productivity and ensure value creation. Indeed, digital transformation is already a top priority for Information Technology (IT) leaders. According to a study by International Data Corporation (IDC) — a leading market research company — 51% of Middle East and Africa (MEA) organizations are already involved in digital transformation initiatives, while 31% are beginning their journey.

As the adoption of digital transformation increases, data will become the core of business and government assets. Huawei's Global Industry Vision for 2025 (GIV@2025) predicts that the digital economy will reach US$23 trillion by 2025. Artificial Intelligence (AI), big data, cloud, and 5G — ABC + 5G, for short — will be at the heart of this new economy, laying the foundation of an intelligent society and creating unprecedented opportunities for industries to prosper.

The trigger for intelligence is tightly coupled with the availability of data, which is accelerated by the integration of the physical and digital worlds. Devices and things — in the Internet of Things (IoT) — are able to sense, then produce and transmit data through various connectivity capabilities. Huawei's GIV@2025 predicts that by 2025, there will be 100 billion connected devices generating massive amounts of data, for which many will require high-bandwidth, low-latency connectivity to ensure that the full benefits are derived. Here, 5G will play a vital role and is expected to rollout over just three years, compared to the ten years and five years needed for 3G and 4G, respectively. Huawei additionally predicts that by 2025, 6.5 million 5G base stations will be deployed, covering 58% of the world’s population.

Figure: AI at the Core of Future Transformation

Cognitive Cities Powered by AI

Cognitive cities are just around the corner, bringing possibilities beyond our expectations . Huawei forecasts that by 2025, there will be 40 billion AI-enabled personal smart devices, of which 90% will have intelligent personal assistants. Inside our homes, by the same year, 20 billion smart devices will be in operation. Robots will be everyday companions for citizens and 14% of families will have smart domestic robots living under their roofs. With smart sensing devices taking over simple, repetitive tasks and helping to make better decisions, owners will be freed to focus their attention on higher pursuits.

A cognitive city must constantly improve its performance in every domain by learning from the data and interactions within the city. This embodies the true essence of the Japanese business philosophy of kaizen — meaning continuous improvement — a concept I first came across more than 25 years ago when I started my career in the UK automotive industry.

Government AI Strategies Leading the Future

Governments must lead the efforts by first applying intelligent digital transformation to themselves, while paving the road for industries and society as a whole through relevant, supportive policies. Indeed, governments in the Middle East have already taken bold steps by introducing long-term visions that center on digitalization and AI to realize business and societal value. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has also already launched its National Program for Artificial Intelligence — dubbed B.R.A.I.N — which highlights advances in AI and robotics. The program places special emphasis on the UAE’s policy objective to become a leading participant in the responsible use of AI and its tools, globally. The same goes for Saudi Arabia, having launched the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA), in line with Saudi Vision 2030. The Kingdom is now poised to become the global leader among data-driven economies. Mega, green field developments such as NEOM —a planned city situated in northwestern Saudi Arabia — are well positioned to lead the way as they are untethered, able to think freely and apply cognition from the ground up. The build out of such an exciting program, with 5G as a key enabler, will allow cognition to be embedded in every domain, ultimately creating a successful urban development where people can thrive.

Security and citizen services represent any government’s top categories for the application of AI. Intelligent video feeds can be used for multiple purposes depending on the needs of the city, from flood detection to traffic flow optimization, in addition to the basic needs of security and automated threat intelligence systems. Traffic flow analysis and adjustment of traffic lights, tolls, parking, and directional signs all offer greater convenience for citizens. Huawei’s GIV@2025 predicts that by 2025, 15% of vehicles will be embedded with Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything (C-V2X) technologies. And all of this will be managed and controlled through AI-powered Intelligent Operation Centers (IOCs).

An intelligent society is powered by massive amounts of data from sensors on the road, traffic lights, governments, and enterprises, as well as terabytes of data produced by video from various sources. This will place significant pressure on networks and might well cause network congestion, even on the most sophisticated and robust city networks. And here comes the role of edge computing. Analytics at the edge generates faster, near real-time decisions while saving transmission costs and avoiding network hazards. While there will still be a need to have analytics on the cloud, be it public or private, this distributed AI potentially offers far faster business results.

AI is Driving the Future of Work

By 2025, 100% of enterprises will be using cloud in some way, and 86% of these enterprises will be using AI, Huawei predicts. This means that businesses and enterprises lacking cloud capabilities will struggle to innovate and compete in the digital era. IoT will lead the way, with 180 billion TB of data being generated every year from “Smart Things” present in almost every business domain, including public utilities, transportation, manufacturing, healthcare, agriculture, and finance. There is a need for new, intelligent innovations capable of unprecedented value creation. This will encourage enterprises to place AI investment among their top priorities. IDC forecasts that US$96 billion will be spent on AI by 2023 with retail, banking, and manufacturing taking the lead, representing almost 39% of the total spend.

AI-Powered Robots Augmenting Workers

Within the manufacturing industry, the convergence of IT and Operational Technology (OT) in manufacturing facilities is becoming a major focus for executives eager to monitor, control, and optimize their production facilities as well as their supply chains. By 2024, over 60% of the Forbes top-ranked 2000 global manufacturing organizations will have AI at the core of their supply chain digitalization initiatives, providing productivity gains of more than 20%, based on IDC's research. Moreover, factories of the future will feature augmented workers, also known as "robots." Huawei's GIV@2025 predicts that there will be 103 robots for every 10,000 manufacturing employees, making industrial robots working side-by-side with people commonplace in the manufacturing environment.

But manufacturing is not the only sector that will employ robots to work alongside humans. Governments have started adding digital headcount as well.

AI Leading the Future of Customer Experience

AI-powered Robotic Process Automation (RPA), as well as chatbots with conversational AI capabilities, are set to revolutionize the customer experience. AI-enabled Intelligent Process Automation (IPA) software spending will touch US$23 billion by 2023, according to IDC. In fact, governments have already embraced virtual workers. "Rammas," a virtual worker from the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA), used AI to respond to over 1.2 million queries in 2019 alone, in both English and Arabic. Rammas is available around the clock to help customers complete a wide range of transactions: from paying bills and following-up on requests to obtain electricity and water services, to providing job queries.

For retail, context awareness, personalization, and customer behavior-based recommendations are all applications based on AI. They are key in the creation of a new shopping experience that is customized to fit the needs of each specific customer. Elsewhere, Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) solutions are creating a new digital interface for customers. Huawei predicts that by 2025, 440 million people and 10% of companies will use VR and AR.


Digital transformation — powered by AI, big data analytics, cloud, and 5G — represents the perfect storm for governments and businesses to develop a new standard for value creation and revolutionize citizen and customer experiences. To cope, governments and enterprises urgently need to transform, to adapt to this new reality. They should start by adopting AI strategies and policies that complement digitalization efforts to transform the nature of skills required in all sectors, to make everyone comfortable dealing with virtual workers as well as making data-driven decisions.



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