Under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council Ruler of Sharjah, the first day of the Sharjah FDI Forum 2017 has headlined with an expert panel of internationally renowned business leaders and technology gurus to explore the implications of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (FIR) on future economies and societies – and the impact it will have on investment and innovation as we know it.
In the panel discussion ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution: ’Opportunities, Benefits and Challenges’ five renowned regional and global industry leaders discussed the potential of a more efficient, connected and reliable way of working, but at the possible expense of many traditional jobs for a human workforce that could be cut at grass roots levels.
However, Bashar Kilani, Regional Executive, Gulf Countries and Levant, IBM Middle East said many ‘blue collar workers’ would be replaced with ‘new collar workers’, a strategy Sharjah has already adopted.
He said: “Sharjah has the vision and the leadership to embrace this new revolution and adopt these changes where employment is concerned, investing in human resources as well as technology. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is more rapid than any other and as Sharjah moves away from a hydrocarbon-based economy, we see that data is becoming the new oil.”
Though, while the oil industry currently maintains an important source of income, Zaid Alqufidi, Managing Director for Retail at ENOC, agreed that the changes taking place are having a significant and beneficial effect on the sector.
Alqufidi added: “If we look back at the Fortune 500 companies some time ago, oil was at the top of the list, but that has now been replaced by I.T. Energy is the same as any other industry in this fourth revolution; it becomes cheaper, more efficient and more accessible. We have adopted smart stations, solar energy, alternative payment methods – cash is disappearing and apps are becoming the future.”
Speaking on the vast differences of the latest industrial revolution, Colin Hu, Managing Director, UAE Enterprise Business Group at Huawei Technologies, said that the rate of change is unprecedented and that unlike other giant leaps in production and efficiency, the fourth revolution was not restrictive.
Hu said: “Previously there was a tremendous amount of outlay and capital needed to take full advantage of the changes, everyone else was simply an employee. But now all you need is a smartphone to become a part of that revolution and benefit as well as contribute.”
Dan Hu also believes that previous shifts in technology have always been looked upon with scepticism and a certain amount of distrust and that one of the greatest obstacles in accepting the fourth revolution was the need to change mindsets as well as mechanics.
“People have a fear and a hatred of things they either do not understand or cannot control,” he warned. “When ATMs first came into operation, there was distinct paranoia about the security of money, but they are now integral to our lives. And when we look back to first industrial revolution and the advent of the locomotive, there were many workers who were against such radical changes because their livelihoods were threatened, despite it being a far more efficient way to travel and transport goods.”
Although the forum guests agreed that artificial intelligence, big data, robots and speed were key factors, Bashar Kilani told the packed audience that professional and personal lives would be enhanced and not replaced.
Kilani explained: “I prefer to call it ‘augmented reality’. We will work with this intelligence to help us collect and analyse such enormous data. Fields such as medicine and teaching will benefit enormously, as digital, physical and biological spheres come together.”
Concluding the session, Dan Hu spoke of the overwhelming effect of blockchain technology: “Blockchain will do to transactions what the internet did to information and the UAE is already establishing the infrastructure, vision, resources and commitment to execute that.”
The Sharjah FDI Forum 2017, based on the theme ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution’ concludes today.