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Deregulation and User Protection Needed to Create Competitive Arab Tech Scene

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The Arab world needs to fast-track balanced regulation that supports the opportunities created by the Fourth Industrial Revolution while protecting data privacy, if it is to capitalize on the region’s emerging technology scene.

The Middle East and North Africa boasts a growing number of start-ups, with a 31% increase in investments to $900 million in 2018 compared to 2017 across sectors including transport, healthcare and fintech. Such businesses offer the potential for a new wave of economic growth in a part of the world traditionally handicapped by weak infrastructure and a limited industrial base.

“I view the Fourth Industrial Revolution as our opportunity to catch up, as our opportunity to leapfrog and actually get to parity with the rest of the world,” said Mudassir Sheikha, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of ride-hailing firm Careem.

Careem has emerged as a poster-child for the Arab digital economy after it was acquired last month by Uber for $3.1 billion – a milestone for Arab tech deal-making. It comes on the heels of the $580 million purchase of Dubai-based e-commerce company Souq by Amazon in 2017.

After steam, mass production and information technology, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is bringing accelerating cycles of innovation, driven by artificial intelligence, robotics and biotechnology. It offers the promise of new high-tech jobs in a region struggling with high levels of youth unemployment – provided countries can deliver the right educational foundations.

But the rapid pace of change also raises concerns at a time when digital giants such as Facebook are confronted by a growing “techlash” over data privacy. Regional sensitivities over cultural norms add an extra level of complexity.

“It’s a very nuanced situation,” said Wafa Ben-Hassine, Counsel, Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Policy at Access Now, who argues that governments in the region must adopt a user-centred framework to ensure privacy and freedom from surveillance and censorship.

Some countries are already moving to embrace the new technological future, with Bahrain – recently selected as the site of new Amazon data centres – having passed a law allowing data stored there by foreign companies to be governed by laws of their home country.

“We think that is going to be a ground-breaking law,” said Khalid Al Rumaihi, Chief Executive, Bahrain Economic Development Board. “We, of course, have to manage risk but we have to not ignore opportunity.”

The United Arab Emirates, meanwhile, has appointed Omar bin Sultan Al Olama as the world’s first Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, underscoring the Gulf state’s determination to carve out a niche in the new digital world.

“Not one country is going to lead in the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” Al Olama said. “There are going to be hubs of excellence across the world and each hub is going to champion one or two domains – and we want to champion the domain of government, first and foremost.”

For governments and companies alike, the new digital economy will bring pluses and minuses, especially when it comes to employment prospects – a dilemma showcased vividly by Careem, which has created 1 million jobs since it started operating seven years ago, but could also destroy employment with the arrival of autonomous cars.

In practice, Sheikha said, the impact of self-driving cars will be felt more gradually in the Middle East thanks to cheaper labour costs, with driver costs accounting for an average 25% of trip expenses in the region against 80% in the United States.

In region known for its big governments, it is important that regulations do not create stumbling-blocks to optimizing the benefits of technology, according to Murat Sönmez, Managing Director and Head of the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Global Network, World Economic Forum. “We need to make sure we don’t get in the way of the potential.”

And Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum, warned that the Middle East simply cannot afford to be left behind. “Those countries that absorb the potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution first will be the most competitive countries,” he said. “We have to make sure that countries and regions are not lagging behind.”

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Strengthen Inclusion and Empower the World’s Invisible Billion

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The World Bank announced today the launch of the second Mission Billion Challenge for innovative solutions to increase inclusion and access to digital platforms such as identification systems. This challenge will crowdsource innovations at a time when countries seek to deliver cash relief to vulnerable persons, such as informal workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Challenge offers cash prizes totaling US$150,000 for the most promising solutions.

“The challenges countries are facing to mitigate the economic impact of COVID-19 underscore the urgency for action. Innovation that takes into consideration gender equality and different levels of access to technology among vulnerable groups is critical,” said World Bank Vice President for Infrastructure Makhtar Diop, “The Mission Billion Challenge is a platform for sourcing solutions that address disparities by helping to ensure identification systems are inclusive of all people.”

The Mission Billion Challenge comes at a time of an unprecedented global crisis. The pandemic highlights the importance of platforms (such as foundational IDs, government to person (G2P) payments, and social registries) to quickly scale up or to introduce new social protection programs. In particular, countries with such assets have been able to efficiently make cash transfers to informal workers, migrant workers, and other vulnerable populations who are difficult to identify and not commonly included in social safety nets. The Challenge seeks more solutions to how countries can increase their efforts to reach women and girls, and vulnerable populations—who often lack smartphones, computers and broadband internet access—to prove who they are, remotely with no or minimal in-person interaction, so they can access services and benefits with minimal risks to health.

 “Inclusion must be at the heart of all digital solutions. Vulnerable groups—such as the poor, people living in remote areas, women and girls, migrants and refugees—are more likely to face barriers to accessing and using their IDs. They must have equal access to services, support, and new economic opportunities which having an ID helps create,” said World Bank Vice President of Equitable Growth, Finance, and Institutions Ceyla Pazarbasioglu. 

The 2020 Mission Billion Challenge offers a Global Prize for solutions with world-wide application to ensure the inclusivity of ID systems for vulnerable groups, particularly during physical distancing requirements. This year, a new Regional West Africa Prize, will seek innovative solutions that facilitate contributions to social insurance programs, such as pensions and savings accounts, by informal sector workers.

Individuals and organizations with a strong passion for developing innovative solutions are encouraged to apply. Submitted solutions to the Challenge will be reviewed by a group of experts in digital identification, inclusion, and international development. Finalists will be invited to a high-level event to present their solutions in front of distinguished judges around the World Bank Group’s Annual Meetings in October 2020.

The Mission Billion Challenge is open. The submission deadline is August 14, 2020. To learn more about the Challenge, visit: http://id4d.worldbank.org/missionbillion.

About the Identification for Development (ID4D) Initiative

The World Bank Group’s Identification for Development (ID4D) Initiative helps countries realize the transformational potential of digital identification. ID4D is a cross sectoral initiative that works closely with countries and partners to enable all people to exercise their rights and to access services, including to provide official identification to the estimated 1 billion people currently without one. ID4D has three pillars of activity: country and regional engagement; thought leadership; and global convening and platforms. The ID4D agenda supports the achievement of the World Bank Group’s two overarching goals: ending extreme poverty by 2030 and promoting shared prosperity. ID4D is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the UK Government, the French Government, the Australian Government, and Omidyar Network.

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Future Vaccines, Wearable Bio-sensors, Aerospace Navigation: 2020 Cohort of Young Scientists

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The World Economic Forum today announces its Class of 2020 Young Scientists, representing 25 exceptional researchers at the forefront of scientific discovery.

Recognition of the Young Scientists comes at a time when the need for evidence-based policy has never been clearer. Although the challenge of COVID-19 has unintentionally diverted attention away from other research work – despite the pressing global issues that these efforts address – the need for science to test, predict and explain how different phenomena affect human and ecological outcomes is greater than ever. The Young Scientists were nominated by leading research institutes according to criteria including research excellence, leadership potential and commitment to serving society.

These brilliant academics, 40 and under, have been selected on the basis of their achievements in expanding the boundaries of knowledge and practical applications of science in issues as diverse as child psychology, chemical oceanography and artificial intelligence.

Eight of this year’s Young Scientists study in Europe, while seven work in Asia, six are based in the Americas, two in South Africa and a further two in the Middle East. Fifteen – more than half – of the 25 Young Scientists are women.

“We are looking forward to working with the Class of 2020 Young Scientists to help leaders from the public and private sector better engage with science and in doing so, help young researchers become stronger ambassadors for science, which the world needs now and will continue to need post-COVID-19,” said Alice Hazelton, Programme Lead, Science and Society, World Economic Forum.

Here are the World Economic Forum’s Young Scientists of 2020:

From Africa:

  • Sarah Fawcett (University of Cape Town, South Africa, South African): Fawcett researches the role of ocean chemistry and biology in climate, as well as the impacts of human activities on marine environments using measures of elements such as carbon and nitrogen
  • Salome Maswime (University of Cape Town, South Africa, South African): Maswime seeks to understand surgical health systems and causes of maternal death during caesarean section in poorly resourced areas to improve surgical care across populations

From the Americas:

  • Gao Wei (California Institute of Technology, USA, Chinese): Gao develops skin-interfaced wearable biosensors that will enable analytics through sweat rather than blood, leading to non-invasive and real-time analysis and timely medical intervention
  • Francisca Garay (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Chile, Chilean): Garay is studying what are the most basic building blocks of the universe by developing technologies to accelerate and enhance the capabilities of particle accelerators
  • Diego Garcia-Huidobro (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Chile, Chilean): Garcia-Huidobro uses human-centred design methods to develop sustainable and scalable community-level health interventions in Chile
  • Jennifer Ronholm (McGill University, Canada, Canadian): Ronholm is working to strengthen the microbiome of agricultural animals to resist infections in the absence of antibiotics, with the aim of reducing the spread of antimicrobial resistance
  • Stefanie Sydlik (Carnegie Mellon University, USA, American): Sydlik designs new materials that stimulate the body’s healing response to enable the regeneration of natural bone as an alternative to metal implants currently used to heal bone injuries
  • Fatma Zeynep Temel (Carnegie Mellon University, USA, Turkish): Temel uses mathematical models and physical prototypes to test and explore biologically inspired designs, leading to the development of small-scale robots and sensors

From Asia:

  • Lee Sue-Hyun (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, South Korea, Korean): Lee researches how memories are recalled and updated, and how emotional processes affect human memory, to inform therapeutic interventions for mental disorders
  • Meng Ke (Tsinghua University, China, Chinese): Meng seeks to understand the socio-economic causes of population ageing and declining population rates to suggest what public policy measures and innovations can be used to address them
  • Shi Ling (Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, China, Chinese): Shi researches the vulnerability of cyber-physical systems to protect safety-critical infrastructures – such as power utilities and water transportation systems – from attacks
  • Sho Tsuji (University of Tokyo, Japan, Japanese): Tsuji seeks to understand how an infant’s social environment affects language acquisition – a key predictor of future literacy – to inform culturally sensitive, science-based, societal interventions
  • Wu Dan (Zhejiang University, China, Chinese): Wu is researching technological advances in MRI techniques to improve its ability to detect tumours and stroke, as well as monitor foetal brain development
  • Yi Li (Peking University, China, Chinese): Yi researches social-communicative impairments in children with autism in China to develop more precise screening and diagnosis, as well as innovative treatment approaches in the country
  • Ying Xu (Chinese Academy of Sciences, China, Chinese): Ying’s research focuses on enhancing China’s low-orbit Beidou navigation satellite system, which could lead to advances in the commercial aerospace industry

From Europe:

  • Celeste Carruth (ETH Zurich, Switzerland, American): Carruth is developing a new 2D ion trap experiment for quantum information processing that is expected to be more reliable and cheaper to scale up than competing technologies and aims to lead to breakthrough quantum computing results
  • Nicola Gasparini (Imperial College London, United Kingdom, Italian): Gasparini is developing novel technologies to treat severe and incurable vision problems caused by degeneration of the retina, which affects almost 200 million people worldwide
  • Joe Grove (Imperial College London, United Kingdom, British): Grove investigates how viruses enter human cells and evade the immune system to reveal new biology and inform the design of future vaccines
  • Philip Moll (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland, German): Moll is developing new methods to make micro-scale modifications to material structures with the potential to improve quantum computing
  • Mine Orlu (University College London, United Kingdom, British): Orlu is designing patient-tailored pharmaceutical and healthcare technologies that contribute to healthy and independent ageing across the life course
  • Michael Saliba (University of Stuttgart, Germany, German): Saliba is developing inexpensive, stable and highly efficient perovskite solar cells that will enable the acceleration of sustainable energy technology
  • Andy Tay (Imperial College London, United Kingdom, Singaporean): Tay is developing new technology and materials to engineer immune cells, tissues and systems, with the aim of preventing and treating cancer
  • Jan Dirk Wegner (ETH Zurich, Switzerland, German): Wegner develops novel artificial intelligence methods to analyse large-scale environmental data and accelerate humanity’s ability to solve ecological problems

From the Middle East:

  • Joseph Costantine (American University of Beirut, Lebanon, Lebanese): Constantine’s research leverages electromagnetism to design a new generation of wireless communication systems, biomedical sensors and wirelessly powered devices through radio frequency energy harvesting
  • Joanna Doummar (American University of Beirut, Lebanon, Lebanese): Doummar seeks to better understand complex underground drainage systems, known as karst aquifers, to better address and solve national water quality and quantity challenges

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Dramatic Rise of Cybersecurity Risks from COVID-19 Prompts Action Plan

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In a matter of weeks, the pandemic forced the global economy and society, organizations and individuals to become more reliant than ever on the internet and the digital economy. According to the Forum’s COVID-19 Risks Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and its Implications, cyberattacks and data fraud are considered the most likely technological risks of COVID-19 for the world, and the third of greatest concern overall owing to abrupt adoption of new working patterns.

To support business leaders responsible for reinforcing the cyber resilience of their organizations in an unforeseen, instantaneous new reality, the World Economic Forum today launched The Cybersecurity Leadership Principles: Lessons learnt during the COVID-19 pandemic to prepare for the new normal.

All leaders and organizations are pressured to adapt business models faster than anyone was prepared for, to ensure existential survival. The principles provide a framework for responsible decision-making and action in this crucial period to help organizations balance short-term goals with medium- to longer-term imperatives. To bolster cyber resilience and secure operations, they urge leaders to:

Foster a culture of cyber resilience Focus on protecting the organization’s critical assets and services Balance risk-informed decisions during the crisis and beyondUpdate and practice response and business continuity plans as the business transitions to the “new normal”Strengthen ecosystem-wide collaboration

“Due to COVID-19, businesses must accelerate their digital transformation to harness the benefits while striking a balance between agility, scalability, efficiency, profitability and cybersecurity,” said Georges De Moura, Head of Industry Solutions, Centre for Cybersecurity, World Economic Forum. “The confluence of these disruptive forces is impacting critical functions and industry ecosystems globally.”

“This crisis has prompted a step-change in our reliance on digital channels. We are managing the associated risk by following appropriate principles, including fostering a greater culture of cyber resilience and strengthening collaboration with external stakeholders”, said Sandro Bucchianeri, Group Chief Security Officer, Absa Group.

“The principles highlighted in this report will help businesses take an overall approach that combines cybersecurity with system engineering and operations to prepare for and adapt to changing conditions, and to withstand and recover rapidly from disruptions caused by cyberattacks and crisis scenarios,” said Mark Hugues, Senior Vice President Security, DXC Technology.

Known before the pandemic, the relevance and benefit of the principles and imperatives are underscored by the new reality, its pace and scale. COVID-19 is confronting every organization with the limits of its ability to learn and change in an environment where speed is everything and where delaying key decisions can have a dramatic impact on business operations.

With the instantaneous shift to the digital realm, cyber resilience and cybersecurity are no longer theoretical nice-to-haves: companies – and countries – have become painfully conscious of the fragility of the critical systems upon which they vitally depend and that must be secure and resilient.

“In the urgent management of near-term challenges, responsible business leaders must incorporate cyber resilience in the business operating model and invest in capabilities to anticipate, withstand, recover from and adapt to adverse conditions and cyberattacks, to position the business for its success beyond the pandemic conditions,” De Moura said.

According to the report, this approach and the rigorous application of the principles will help organizations earn the trust of employees, customers and business partners, and help to successfully adapt in an increasingly ambiguous and fast-moving world.

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