Healthcare an ideal jumping-off point for Artificial Intelligence: President of MBZUAI

Healthcare an ideal jumping-off point for Artificial Intelligence: President of MBZUAI

ABU DHABI, 4th July, 2021 (WAM) -- Professor Eric Xing, President of the Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI), has said that healthcare is an "ideal jumping-off point for Artificial Intelligence (AI) because it generates so much data".

However, he thinks that healthcare providers are yet to fully leverage their potential.

In an interview with the Emirates News Agency (WAM), Xing said, "AI can help doctors derive more insights from clinical data to improve their understanding of their patients and make better decisions. In addition, unlike human doctors, AI can analyse the data of millions of patients at once."

Professor Xing said that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the potential of AI, as scientists were quick to leverage the power of AI to research vaccines, monitor the spread of the pandemic, conduct contact tracing and more.

"We have prioritised AI and healthcare in our research at MBZUAI since its inception," he added, describing it as a "safe and responsible AI".

He pointed out other areas ripe for AI research, including energy, which is a crucial industry in the region. For example, he explained, AI can develop models that calculate the ideal pressure to achieve optimum oil recovery or predict when preventative maintenance is needed.

It can also obtain insights to help reduce carbon emissions, increase water and power efficiency, and manage other aspects of energy generation, shipment and transmission.

Answering a question on how does MBZUAI align with the UAE's national agenda and economic aspirations, Professor Xing said that MBZUAI is the realisation of the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, to create a hub for AI learning, research and development in the UAE that will help build and sustain a knowledge economy.

"The support we have received from the UAE leadership, government and the members of the Board of Trustees has allowed us to establish ourselves as a leading hub for AI in the region within a very short time, as seen by our growing body of cutting-edge research work," he added.

"Moreover, partnerships are crucial in meeting our goals," he went on to say, adding that MBZUAI has partnered with the Technology Innovation Institute of the Advanced Technology Research Council in Abu Dhabi to establish a collaborative framework to enable joint fundamental and applied research in AI.

He said that by training an increasing number of AI professionals, they ensure that industry and public institutions have the people, skills and resources for the use of AI.

"We also held a series of expert-led webinars to build academic strength amongst the community," he stated, adding that MBZUAI Research Talks and MBZUAI AI Talks were attended by faculty members, students, and local engineers and hosted by faculty from both MBZUAI and other leading universities, such as Carnegie Mellon University, Max Plant Institute, and New York University Abu Dhabi, among others.

To attract the best regional and global talent, Professor Eric Xing said they offer an attractive proposition for prospective learners, including fully paid scholarships, living allowances and other support structures for students.

"We also want to support UAE's innovation clusters and AI startups, aligned with Abu Dhabi's ambition to become a leading tech talent and innovation destination," he said, adding that they have participated in activities organised by Hub71, the startup ecosystem based in the capital.

When asked about the focus areas of the research conducted at MBZUAI, Professor Eric Xing, said, "Our focus is to solve problems that exist as an open question so that we are ready with an answer when required.

"That means not chasing the wave but creating it. So, for example, no company commissioned the semi-conductor – its invention was purely driven by innovation," he explained.

"Then we want to train the right students. We want to train doers in AI and research to put what they have learnt into practice to generate the right impact. We also want to make the university a hub for innovation and startups to become an incubator for new ideas and entrepreneurship to take our research even further."

Creating a university dedicated to AI is a unique experiment, according to Professor Eric Xing, who said that very few universities in the world specialise in a specific topic. "the definition of a university comes from ancient Roman or Greek terminology, meaning universe. However, AI is a vast topic that is, by definition, interdisciplinary."

He pointed out that AI touches every discipline, such as biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, all of which produce data. Thus, "it is a broad discipline that arguably deserves its university."

When asked how he ensures that the talent that the university attracts is retained in the UAE, President MBZUAI explained, "Stanford University offers an excellent analogy for MBZUAI. Silicon Valley owes its origin and success to Stanford University. The university leased its land to the public and allowed the faculty to build startups.

"As a result, IT giants such as HP and Dell were founded by students and faculty from Stanford. It is the dandelion effect at work – as the wind blows, the seeds spread. Similarly, by nurturing a culture of research and innovation, we are confident we can create a new generation of entrepreneurs in Abu Dhabi.

"Our location at Masdar City, a regional hub for technology innovation, is beneficial as our graduates can quickly assimilate into a thriving innovation-driven environment."

He said that there is a firm commitment from Abu Dhabi to invest in education, and MBZUAI is a testament to that commitment. "We are trying to bring in services and ideas to create a next-generation workforce for the country."

On the success of MBZUAI five years down the line, Professor Eric Xing said, "We want to be a new home for academic and scientific life. The best universities are not remembered for the technologies they invented. Instead, they are recognised for being a thought capital or a unique symbol of a region's culture and innovation power. As a new institution, I believe we can create such an environment, adding to the culture while bringing in more new ideas."

"We want to create a strong engineering and innovation culture here in the UAE," he added, citing the example of The Princeton Institute for Advanced Study, which is "a Mecca for physics and maths research." Its first employee was Albert Einstein. His presence attracted other brilliant minds to the college.

"So, they started with a top-down culture, an approach MBZUAI is following," he said.

"Ultimately, we want to deliver on the bold vision of the UAE leadership in creating this institution."

About the kinds of partnerships, the university looking for, Professor Eric Xing said, "We are deeply integrated into the local community here in the UAE. There is a potentially enormous demand for AI technology and solutions that enhance the community's well-being and provide an alternative growth engine for the local economy. We are privileged to receive the support and the enthusiasm of both the leadership and the community in ways other graduate schools do not."

"Abu Dhabi is an open ecosystem that offers innovators the chance to try new ideas, thrive, and advance their careers. In terms of infrastructure, it is among the best destinations in the world to live comfortably while experiencing the local culture. It is a new melting pot for culture and ideas to coexist and to create something new," he continued.

Professor Eric Xing who has been recently appointed as a council member of the UAE Genomics Council, told WAM about the intersection of AI and genome science, saying, "I am proud to be part of this initiative as head of MBZUAI. The Genomics Council is headed by Sheikh Khaled bin Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Member of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council and Chairman of Abu Dhabi Executive Office, to regulate, oversee and guide the implementation of the Emirati Genome Programme into the healthcare system across the country. The Programme aims to transform the health and well-being of Emiratis with genomics and artificial intelligence."

He went on to explain, "If you think of genomics as another type of dense data, then AI presents a powerful method to help make sense of the information. This is because the scale of the genome is vast, and AI tools can identify patterns in the data far more efficiently.

"Genomics promises to make precision medicine treatments a reality. The first step in that endeavour is to translate genomic data from an incomprehensible resource into a meaningful medical asset," he said, adding that only AI can do that at scale and relatively affordably.

WAM/Tariq alfaham/MOHD AAMIR