April 23, 2024
A Panel Discussion Entitled ‘’The New Era of Artificial Intelligence: Challenges & Opportunities’’

Event Information

The British Egyptian Business Association (BEBA) organised an event on ‘’The New Era of Artificial Intelligence: Challenges & Opportunities’ in honor of H.E Dr. Amr Talaat, Minister of communications and information technology who gave a keynote address followed by a panel discussion with special guests speakers; Marwa Abbas, General Manger at IBM, Sahar Albazar, Egyptian Parliament Member and Deputy Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Mahmoud El Khateeb, VP, Business Director at Vodafone Egypt Professor, Guy Daly, Provost and Senior Vice-President at The British University in Egypt (BUE), Ahmed Tantawy, a senior advisor to the Egyptian Minister of Communications and IT and the Founding Director of the Applied Innovation, Mohamed Fahmy, Managing Director & CEO at Sequence Ventures, Tarek Seif El Nasr, Head of Venture Growth at Falak Startups and the moderator Karim Refaat, Chairman, N Gage Consulting. The objective of the event is to focus on how AI is reshaping business and its challenges and opportunities. 

Eng. Khaled Nosseir, BEBA Chairman, delivered welcome remarks to the esteemed guests, notably H.E Dr. Amr Talaat, Minister of communications and information technology. – H.E Minister Byoung-Sun Choi charge d’affaires, Korean Embassy. – Dr. Ziad Bahaa El-Din, Former Deputy Prime Minister. – Dr. Sherif Sami, Former Chairman of EFSA. – Eng. Raafat Abdelaziz Fahmi, Deputy Minister for Infrastructure Affairs. – Dr. Ghada Mostafa Labeeb, Deputy Minister for Institutional Development. – Dr. Sherif Mohamed Farouk, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Postal Authority. – Eng. Ahmed Elzaher, Chief Executive Officer of the Information Technology Industry Development Authority. – Mr. Ali Eissa, Chairman of the Egyptian Businessmen Association. – Mr. Mohanad Khaled, Chairman of Egyptian British Chambre of Commerce. – Ms. Lamise Negm, Former Advisor to the Governor of the Central Bank. – Dr. Khaled Sherif, Assistant Minister of Tourism for Digital Transformation. – Ms. Nesreen Lasheen, Head of Investors Support Unit, Office of the Minister of Finance. H.E Dr. Talaat delivered a keynote speech, that shed light on the Ministry of International Trade’s (MIT) strategy concerning Artificial Intelligence (AI). In his address, he underscored the profound impact of AI on various sectors globally, discussing both its opportunities and risks. H.E Dr. Talaat began by emphasizing the significance of AI, likening its potential impact to that of nuclear weapons. He highlighted the exponential growth and adoption of AI technologies, noting its unprecedented speed of advancement compared to previous inventions. Drawing attention to the evolution of AI, H.E Dr. Talaat discussed the recent advancements in computational power and capabilities. He distinguished between traditional AI and the emergence of transformative technologies, particularly generative AI, which has intensified global discussions on AI’s opportunities and risks. H.E Dr. Talaat provided compelling statistics on the rapid adoption of AI, citing the decreasing time required for new technologies to reach 50 million users. He underscored the widespread prevalence of AI and its accessibility, raising concerns about the readiness of various sectors to harness its potential effectively. Ethical considerations surrounding AI were also addressed in the speech, including issues related to data neutrality, copyright, and the impact on professions. He emphasized the importance of addressing these concerns to ensure responsible AI development and deployment. Turning to Egypt’s national strategy on AI, H.E Dr. Talaat outlined initiatives dating back to 2019, including the formation of a National Council for AI. The strategy focuses on capacity building, ethical guidelines, and the development of citizen-centric AI solutions tailored to key life events. Various capacity-building initiatives were detailed, aimed at raising awareness and building AI skills across different segments of society. These initiatives include educational programs, training sessions, and online platforms providing access to AI-related resources. H.E Dr. Talaat highlighted the role of the Applied Innovation Center in developing impactful AI solutions for sectors such as healthcare, agriculture, and legal services. He showcased examples of AI applications developed by the center to address societal challenges and enhance efficiency. The speech underscored the importance of proactive measures to harness the potential of AI while mitigating associated risks, emphasizing the role of education, innovation, and international cooperation in shaping the future of AI. Abdelaziz El Gaml from Transworld Energy expressed appreciation for the insightful presentation by His Excellency. He highlighted two key statements regarding data being likened to a new natural resource and its vital role as the bloodline of AI. Drawing from a seminar at Stanford, he underscored the rapid progress of technology, particularly in comparison to the historical evolution of the telecommunications sector. El Gaml then posed a crucial question: How can Egypt leverage its potential to become a global hub for AI and attract top minds worldwide to influence the quality of data feeding into AI systems? H.E Dr. Talaat responded by emphasizing the importance of Egypt’s talent pool as a primary attraction for multinational organizations. He stressed the need for a diverse and skilled workforce, coupled with a conducive ecosystem for AI investment. H.E Dr. Talaat concluded by reiterating the significance of talent development and creating an environment supportive of AI innovation. Another question was raised by Yehia, a student in Oasis International school, about the balance between the opportunities and risks of AI development. He asked whether the resources allocated to AI development might be better utilized in other technologies offering similar opportunities. H.E Dr. Amr Talaat responded by emphasizing the importance of maximizing the benefits of AI while mitigating its risks. He highlighted the need for effective frameworks to address issues like illegal usage and copyright infringement associated with AI. He concluded that by striking a balance between risk mitigation and benefit maximization, pursuing AI development remains the right path forward. Moderator Karim Refaat, Chairman of N Gage Consulting, expressed his interest in understanding the historical timeline of AI development and its current status, particularly in Egypt’s context. He questioned whether Egypt was lagging behind in AI adoption or keeping pace with global advancements. Marwa Abbas, General Manager at IBM, acknowledged the longstanding presence of AI in discussions and its recent acceleration with generative AI. She emphasized that AI began significantly impacting daily lives and productivity when it started touching individuals directly. Abbas highlighted three critical factors essential for effective AI utilization: collaboration, policies, and workforce readiness. She stressed the need for alliances among different entities, robust policies ensuring trust and fairness, and adequate workforce training to engage with AI technologies effectively. Abbas introduced IBM’s Watson X platform as a comprehensive solution, integrating AI engines, data management, and governance. She emphasized the platform’s focus on openness, hybrid cloud capabilities, and governance throughout the AI lifecycle.In response to Refaat’s query about AI’s applicability and effectiveness, Abbas affirmed that AI can indeed be harnessed effectively with the right approach. She cited IBM’s collaboration with the Ministry of ICT in identifying and implementing relevant use cases as evidence of AI’s potential in various sectors. Refaat redirected the conversation to Mahmoud El Khateeb, VP Business Director at Vodafone Egypt, recognizing Vodafone’s pivotal role as a strong government partner in technological transformation. Refaat sought El Khateeb’s evaluation of the government’s efforts and whether there were areas for improvement. In response, El Khateeb commended the government’s progress under the leadership of the Minister for Information Technology, viewing AI both as an opportunity and a necessity. He emphasized the importance of focusing on registration and regulation to create an enabling environment for both the private sector and the government to leverage AI effectively. El Khateeb stressed that AI has become an unavoidable reality, urging organizations and the nation to develop the necessary skill sets to ride the AI wave. He highlighted Vodafone’s involvement in significant national projects, such as the universal health insurance project, which leverages AI to provide end-to-end digital services and opportunities for data analysis to enhance various sectors including healthcare, agriculture, and manufacturing. El Khateeb expressed Vodafone’s commitment to helping customers benefit from AI and implementing innovative ideas, contingent upon the government defining the right regulations and ensuring readiness for AI adoption.Regarding the risk aspect of AI, El Khateeb believed that AI would not replace humans entirely, emphasizing the importance of humans in the learning process. He acknowledged the potential challenge of machines becoming self-learning entities, underscoring the need for careful consideration and regulation. Refaat then redirected the conversation to the next speaker, Professor Guy Daly, Provost and Senior Vice-President at The British University in Egypt (BUE). Refaat posed two interconnected questions regarding the teaching and learning dynamics surrounding AI in Egypt. He questioned whether there were enough teachers capable of instructing students about AI or if the roles were reversed, with students teaching themselves and potentially even their educators. Additionally, he inquired about the availability of a sufficient talent pool in Egypt proficient in AI to either teach the subject or educate the educators. Daly responded by challenging the traditional notion of education where professors are the sole authority and students passively receive knowledge. He emphasized a shift towards personalized learning, placing students at the center of the educational process. Daly suggested that AI presents an opportunity to further enhance personalized learning by tailoring educational programs to individual student needs. Daly acknowledged the challenge of ensuring a competent workforce capable of delivering personalized learning, not just in universities but across all sectors and industries. He emphasized the need for universities and other institutions to adapt to the evolving demands of the 21st century, particularly in the digital realm, and to address the challenges associated with AI education and workforce development. Refaat addressed Sahar Albazar, an Egyptian Parliament Member and Deputy Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, acknowledging her efforts in drafting AI legislation. He highlighted her role in leading consultations and incorporating diverse perspectives into the legislation. In response, Albazar confirmed that she is nearing completion of the legislation, which aims to address various concerns surrounding AI. She emphasized the importance of balancing the need to promote a conducive environment for private sector innovation with the responsibility to protect users, whether individuals, companies, or governmental agencies. Albazar stressed the necessity of ensuring ethical and responsible use of AI, with companies being held accountable for data privacy, copyrights, and environmental impact. She cited the example of an environmental activist who tragically committed suicide after interacting with an AI application, underscoring the importance of legislative measures to protect individuals and hold companies accountable for the consequences of AI technologies. Albazar’s remarks underscored the multifaceted considerations involved in AI legislation, from safeguarding user rights to addressing environmental concerns and ethical implications. Ahmed Tantawy, a senior advisor to the Egyptian Minister of Communications and IT and the Founding Director of the Applied Innovation, emphasized the unique challenges faced by governments in implementing research and development initiatives, particularly in emerging technologies like AI. He highlighted the government’s role as the largest enterprise in any country and its significant impact on various sectors. Tantawy pointed out that most governments lack their own research or applied R&D centers, relying instead on external solutions for digital transformation. However, he stressed the importance of using emerging technologies, especially AI, to enhance government operations and address critical issues such as healthcare. He discussed the specific challenges faced in implementing AI solutions tailored to the Egyptian context, citing factors like genetic differences, dietary habits, and climate variations that impact disease progression. Tantawy emphasized the need for localized data and solutions to effectively address these challenges. Tantawy acknowledged the availability of resources for acquiring AI technology but highlighted the challenges in attracting skilled professionals, particularly leaders and experts with practical experience in AI. Despite these challenges, he expressed optimism about the potential to train and develop a talented workforce to drive AI initiatives within the government. In conclusion, Tantawy emphasized the importance of taking action to address these challenges and underscored the commitment to overcoming obstacles in advancing AI within the government sector. Tarek Seif El Nasr, Head of Venture Growth at Falak Startups, shared insights into the growing significance of AI in the startup ecosystem. He mentioned the emergence of startups focused on AI, particularly in training models for Arabic language applications. El Nast highlighted the challenges and opportunities associated with fine-tuning AI models in Arabic, citing the example of a startup within their portfolio that specializes in Arabic language AI models, including Arabic site subtitles and dialects. Seif El Nasr emphasized the increasing prominence of AI within the startup landscape, noting that AI has become a crucial component for many startups. He recounted his experiences at recent events, where AI was consistently highlighted in workshops and conferences, underscoring its importance in various industries. El Nast also mentioned Saudi Arabia’s significant investment in AI, exemplified by a 40 billion fund dedicated to AI initiatives. Overall, Seif El Nasr’s remarks underscored the growing recognition of AI’s potential and the increasing investment and focus on AI-driven innovations within the startup ecosystem. Mohamed Fahmy, Managing Director & CEO at Sequence Ventures, addressed the question of whether Egypt is an attractive investment destination for him, considering his role as an investor in technology companies and his involvement in the Consultative Digital Council of the Arab League. Fahmy expressed his concerns about the current state of technology and investment in Egypt. He emphasized the need to start investing in earlystage technology companies and to shift from viewing technology as science fiction to embracing it as a reality. Fahmy highlighted the importance of research and collaboration, noting that advancements in technology are not surprises but rather predictable outcomes of continuous research efforts, such as those by IBM. Fahmy acknowledged the lack of sufficient support and investment in technology education and infrastructure in Egypt, stressing the importance of collaborative efforts between the government and the private sector to improve the technology sector. He lamented the insufficient funding provided by institutions for AI investment, emphasizing the need to face the reality of Egypt’s current position in the global technology landscape. Furthermore, Fahmy discussed the upcoming advancements in computing power, including the development of ultrasupercomputers and quantum computers, which he believes will revolutionize the technological landscape. He urged for action to be taken now to capitalize on these advancements and encouraged individuals to contribute to the technological growth of Egypt, emphasizing the importance of not merely being passive observers but active participants in the technological revolution. Overall, Fahmy’s remarks underscored the urgent need for investment and collaboration to foster technological development in Egypt and seize the opportunities presented by advancements in AI and computing. Refaat posed a final question to the panelists, asking why AI investment in Egypt must necessarily come from the government or if there are alternative approaches. Fahmy emphasized the cultural aspect, stating that traditionally, the government takes the lead in investment initiatives, particularly in emerging sectors like technology. He pointed out the importance of government leadership in initiating investments, which can then attract private sector involvement. Mohamed also highlighted the need for investment arms within government institutions to allocate funds specifically for technology ventures. El Khateeb echoed Fahmy’s sentiments, emphasizing the role of the government in initiating investments, particularly in the absence of a robust private sector ecosystem for technology. He stressed the need for government investment in infrastructure, regulation, and partnerships with international players to foster the growth of the technology sector in Egypt. Refaat redirected the question to Professor Daly, raising the issue of investing in students and their potential emigration due to lack of opportunities in Egypt. Daly stressed the importance of investing in education and infrastructure to produce graduates equipped to operate globally. He criticized the emphasis on regulating inputs rather than focusing on outcomes and suggested a shift towards regulating outputs and facilitating the soft power advantages of globally educated graduates. Tantawy expressed skepticism about direct government investment in companies, advocating instead for government support to incentivize private sector investment. He cautioned against government interference in company operations and emphasized the need for a balanced approach that encourages private sector innovation. Abbas concluded the discussion by emphasizing the importance of action and execution in implementing a balanced plan for AI investment in Egypt. Overall, the panelists discussed various perspectives on AI investment in Egypt, emphasizing the need for government leadership, private sector involvement, education, and infrastructure development to foster technological growth. Attendee Dr. Namini highlighted the significance of government investment in AI, citing the United States’ substantial investment in the industry, particularly in chip manufacturing. He pointed out the importance of clarifying misconceptions regarding government involvement and urged for collaboration between various sectors in Egypt to foster talent development and attract investments. He proposed the idea of collective action to influence both government policies and private sector investments to ensure Egypt’s competitiveness in the AI sector. Finally, Refaat expressed gratitude for the valuable insights and stressed the need for education, partnerships, and regulatory frameworks to harness the potential of AI effectively. He thanked the attendees for their participation and looked forward to future discussions on enhancing Egypt’s position in the AI landscape.

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