Innovation Nation: How The UAE Is Establishing Itself As A Global Frontrunner In Game-Changing Technologies A look at how the UAE government has made it clear that the country will become a global hub for tech, innovation, and business.

By Anas Hijjawi

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Few governments in the world acknowledge the social and economic importance of technology, and then take the huge leap of actively supporting its advancement. But the UAE is an exception- a true tech innovator. It sees the potential game changing impact of tech on its economy, people, and presence on the global stage– pursuing the future, you might say.

The UAE understands that diversification is a central tenet in a young nation's sustainability, and so they looked ahead. While the energy sector continues to innovate –and the UAE is a big part of that process– the country has looked to the digital revolution as the path to future prosperity.

If this development has somehow gone under your radar, just look at what the UAE is doing across several key disciplines– specifically coding, blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI), and the metaverse.

THE CODE LESS TRAVELLED

In decades past, the safe trades in pretty much any part of the world were medical or engineering. While these traditional professions are still needed and valued, there is now a serious global shortage in the progressive and rapidly evolving world of tech. To put figures to the crisis, according to the US Labor Department, it's estimated that by 2030, the global shortage of software engineers will reach 85.2 million.

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Coders, developers, techies -whatever you want to call them- are now the hot commodity in the recruitment world. The UAE understands this better than most countries, recognizing that to build great tech –be it blockchain, AI, or the metaverse– you first need technical experts. If there is already a shortage, then it's crucial that initiatives are rolled out that encourage new developers to enter the industry. The UAE is leaning hard into the idea.

Partnering with more than 40 companies in the UAE and globally, in 2022 the UAE launched the boldly ambitious Coders HQ. This transformational project aims to build a new generation of coders, and give them the tools, education, and technology they need to excel, equipping them to design solutions to local and global challenges. It's a brilliant vision, and one that is already having a major impact on the UAE's growing position as a powerhouse of tech and innovation.

NEW KID ON THE BLOCKCHAIN

The hype around blockchain is fully justified. The fortunes of many have been transformed overnight through savvy (early) crypto investment.

But given the market's extreme volatility, regulatory concerns around digital asset ownership differ around the world. As a result, many countries are reluctant to fully embrace it. Not the UAE, however. The nation's progressive stance on digital finance and innovation is well-documented, and it's no surprise that crypto assets were legalized in the UAE back in 2017.

However, that said, the get-rich-quick and HODL (the crypto slang term for those who buy and hold indefinitely) camps need to understand that crypto is only one piece of the blockchain pie. There's a lot more to this disruptive, decentralized, ledger-based technology, from non-fungible tokens (NFTs) to smart contracts.

The UAE government set out an official, broader Blockchain Strategy 2021 in 2018, with plans to have a more robust framework in place by 2021– or, in the words of the UAE Government itself, "to transform 50% of government transactions into the blockchain platform by 2021."

Though we're now past the 2021 watershed moment, fast-forward to the tail end of 2022, and impressive strides have been made. The UAE continues to be one of the most successful global adopters of blockchain tech, and a recent research report identified more than 1,450 active web3 organizations in the country.

To support this trend, the recently formed Virtual Assets Regulatory Authority (VARA) is a testament to just how critical blockchain is to the UAE's long-term prosperity, as it continues to attract already well-established players from across the digital globe, such as Binance and blockchain.com.

Needless to say, the future of digital transactions and governance has strong roots here.

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METAVERSAL ACCLAIM

In tandem with the rise in blockchain, another much hyped web3 tech, is being set up for success in the UAE: the metaverse.

The concept of a digital realm has long been a sci-fi staple. While many may dismiss it as another digital fad, the metaverse is anything but. Perhaps best described as an internet-enabled virtual world, it's a far cry from being a lockdown leisure pursuit or a downtime distraction.

As technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have advanced, the barriers between the digital and physical worlds have become less distinct. However, with the continued rise of remote working, e-commerce, online interaction and education, and the growth of blockchain and web3 technologies, it's looking like a dead cert that the metaverse will be the next digital paradigm shift, the internet of the future.

Not convinced? Tech giants such as Apple, Sony, Epic Games, and others are already setting themselves up for metaverse mastery. Facebook even changed its parent company's name to Meta, if you needed more evidence of their intent.

Ever keen to gain first-mover advantage, here in the UAE, in a step mirroring the country's adoption of blockchain, in July 2022 the Dubai government announced its Metaverse Strategy, an ambitious five-year plan to create 40,000 virtual jobs and add USD 4 billion to the economy over that timeframe.

Related: Tech Innovation: The Path To New Revenue Channels For UAE SMEs

ARTIFICIAL PANACEA

Of all the tech infiltrating our daily lives, AI is the one taking the world by storm. We're not yet dealing with rebellious robots and sapient systems, but AI tech can be found in many home gadgets and almost every corner of business nowadays– whether it's in the form of automations that cut down on manual processing, or in algorithms that help businesses understand complex customer cost scenarios, such as insurance quotes.

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While many countries let businesses charge forward without a wider strategy for individual technologies, the UAE government has seen the true potential of AI and has built a comprehensive strategy to nurture the technology's growth over the next ten years. The strategy has eight central objectives, with a clear focus on encouraging investment to attract even more tech talent to the nation.

Speculating on the impact of technology is challenging, but there is no doubt that AI and machine learning can process and analyze information at a rate the non-digitally assisted human brain could never achieve. This mastery of data could bring further breakthroughs in medicine and tackle such mighty conundrums as the climate crisis, improving people's lives and maybe even saving the world.

With the UAE driving this technology, the country is leading the way to a better future through focused strategy and investment.

Related: Creating Impact (At Scale): Mundo Crypto Founder Mani Thawani

A PROSPEROUS FUTURE

Looking from the perspective of the challenges the world currently faces, coding, blockchain, AI, and the metaverse might seem like small pieces in a huge puzzle. But the truth is, they're not pieces of the puzzle at all, but solutions to it.

The UAE government has made its position clear: it will become a global hub for tech, innovation, and business. The next generation of tech will touch everything from office efficiency to longer-term challenges such as climate change and disease control, and the UAE wants to lead the development of that technology and help solve those problems.

Related: Increasing Innovation In The UAE Through Diversity

Anas Hijjawi

Chief Commercial Officer at Ras Al Khaimah Economic Zone (RAKEZ)

Anas Hijjawi is the Chief Commercial Officer at Ras Al Khaimah Economic Zone (RAKEZ), a powerhouse business and industrial hub in the UAE that uniquely offers customizable solutions to free zone and non-free zone businesses. From freelancers and startups to SMEs and industrialists, RAKEZ’s multinational community is flourishing in over 50 industries.

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