As 4,000 VIP guests gather at the World Government Summit in Dubai to discuss everything from business, politics and technology, Inspire Middle East brings to you exclusive interviews with two of the most illuminating personalities on the ground.
After his company built an Artificial Intelligence operating system, he was invited to the summit by the UAE’s Minister of Artificial Intelligence, His Excellency Omar bin Sultan Al Olama.
Will.i.am’s activities transcends music, business and technology, going all the way to education.
“I also have a school - in the ghetto that I’m from - where we teach kids computer science and engineering – starting from nine years of age, up to 18.
“I was one of those kids who was bust out from the ghetto to learn computer science at an early age - and now that I’ve had success in music I want to go back to my neighbourhood, so kids don’t have to leave. I want to encourage them to not ‘get out of the ghetto’ but to ‘change the ghetto’.
“The problem with the words ‘underdeveloped communities’ is that the people in the communities aren’t educated to be the developers.”
The celebrity is steadfast in his commitment to helping the next generation: all of the children in his school graduate to attend college, and 80 percent of them go into the fields of robotics, computer science and engineering.
Present times, says will.i.am, should be heralded as the cusp of next ‘industrial revolution’ thanks to the wonders of artificial intelligence, virtual reality, augmented reality and 3D printing.
The artist also attributes some of today’s finest innovations to the scientists of yesteryear. Using music as an example, he highlights the importance of inventions dating back to the 1800s, whilst musing how unaware so many of today’s artists are of the fact.
“My industry is based off Edison’s gramophone – without the gramophone and the recording of sound, there would be no recording industry. So, that’s the intersection of art and science.
“And when people get up there and hold a Grammy, they’re really holding a piece of technology – no-one thanks the engineers or the scientists. Instead, they thank everyone but them. ‘I’d like to thank my Mom. Love you Mom.’ And they forget the science.”
Will.i.am’s flying visit to Dubai allowed him to reflect upon what really inspires him about the region. He’s optimistic about the UAE’s tech future, seeing the potential for the country to create its own I.T or A.I giant. The repercussions and positive impacts of this, he says, have the potential to be felt the world over.
“It’s just the beginning, it’s brand new. That’s inspiring - to see and anticipate the wonderful stuff. I can’t wait to see what this region contributes to the world in terms of IT, connectivity and opportunity in solving problems.”
An out-of-this-world teen: Alia Al Mansoori
A wholly inspiring young Emirati woman is leading the way for the Middle East’s contribution to space science.
Reaching for the stars, 15-year-old Alia Al Mansoori has designs on being the first female astronaut to explore the “Red Planet”.
“The UAE mission that is sending humans to Mars is not exact yet, however, they’re planning for the 2030s. I’ll be around 30 years old by then, so I think I’ll be in the right age,” she tells Inspire Middle East.
Al Mansoori’s curiosity about space was first sparked at the age of five, and with the support of her family and teachers, she has since channelled her energy into learning science, technology, engineering and maths.
Today, she is the youngest guest attending the World Government Summit and is proud to have had some of her research published on NASA’s website.
Her ambition is to inspire other teenagers in the region to follow in her lunar footsteps, to which effect she has created her own website, Emirati Astronaut.
Whilst life on Earth is enjoyable for this young celebrity, Al Mansoori can’t wait to blast-off into space and discover a new realm.
“I’ll miss most my family, my country and my friends. But I’ll also miss things like the beach and the desert. But, you know, space is amazing and I’m pretty sure I won’t miss Earth for a very long while.
“One thing I’d actually not miss is the wars and negativity that is happening here on Earth and I’m hoping that the mission to Mars will actually inspire everyone around the world and give them hope.”
Tech-inspired art: The Sharjah Light Festival
Another event taking place in the MENA region this week, shone a light on what technology can also do for the worlds of art and entertainment.
The 8th edition of the Sharjah light festival attracted an estimated 1 million visitors to watch jaw-dropping exhibits by 24 international artists.
Whilst in Europe, cities like Berlin and Lyon have hosted similar festivals – none could compare to Sharjah’s, given the enormity of its operation on the ground.
“Here we have a huge playground to make big installations. Here we've got more techniques, more projectors, more LED screens, more Sky tracers ...more of everything to make our creations,” explains French light artist, Matthieu Felix.
The event has been in gaining in popularity with every edition and the Sharjah Tourism Development Authority is striving to double the number of visitors to 2 million in the coming years.
Adding to this, with international artists already well represented – the aim is for Emirati citizens to make up 20% of the creative pool in the next four years so that they too may one day see their names up in lights.
Social eyes: Inspired talent trending online
Take a closer look at some examples of what has inspired The Middle East on social media this week.