Abu Dhabi Explores Challenges of Technology for Governments and Citizens

  • 18 March 2014

The impact of rapidly changing technology on governments and citizens was explored by a host of experts at a conference in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.

The first day of the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research (Ecssr) Annual conference looked at the challenges posed by a more connected society and how technology can be leveraged to the benefit of users.

The range of topics covered included the benefits technology can have for education, to the concept of an online currency such as Bitcoin.

It was said that by 2020 there would be some 30 billion devices connected to the internet worldwide, including items such as clothing and household appliances, despite a projected population of only 9 billion people.

The impact of this mass connectivity to the online world will have far reaching consequences, the conference was told.

“For the last 5 years and in particular during the Arab Spring, mobile phones are a big part of the story,” said Professor Philip Howard from the University of Washington, USA.

“I put it to you that we are about to have a very different internet – an internet of things, of multiple connected devices.

“Today, some 75 billion apps have been downloaded for smartphones so far, and there are some two billion smartphones out there. If the average phone has 38 apps on it, and the apps ping a server three times a day, the network generates 226 billion location points,” he said.

These location points show where a specific phone or connect device is being used, and produce huge amount of data about what it is being used for.

Mohamed Al Ghanim, director general of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, said that the UAE leadership’s focus lies in creating smart cities that are more people-centric.

“We have started to engage in Smart Government and Smart Cities at the same time,” said Mr Al Ghanim.

“The most important challenge is that this is a project that involves cooperation and responsibility between all the institutions involved. We need to create efficiency to transfer existing processes to become smart. We need to tailor the approach to those who are using the technology - the citizens. We need to work with hundreds of agencies and prioritize the goal in question. This is not a government centric issue, but it is about what the user wants, and what the people who live in our cities want.

“We then face another challenge in marketing these services and how we engage citizens to use these services. We could create the most forward-looking services there are, but can the customer adapt? This is another major challenge. It will take a lot of training and the leadership must focus on individuals,” he said.

Princess Rym Ali, founder of the Jordan Media Institute, said that while the benefits of the changing technology are far-reaching, caution must be exercised.

“Today, mastering communications technology – or any technology - seems to be at the centre of many education initiatives, which makes sense,” Princess Rym said.

“It is a mistake, however, to deliver this knowledge without imparting at the same time the knowledge of human sciences.”