The Mohammed bin Rashid School of Government (MBRSG) has released a report titled The Arab World Online 2017 today (Wednesday, October 25, 2017), which examines the digital transformations and societal trends brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution in the Arab region.
The findings assess public readiness towards, and concerns about emerging digital technologies across the Arab region. This is the first-of-its-kind assessment of societal trends, behaviors and concerns about advanced and emerging digital technologies in the Arab region. The findings cover a spectrum of technologies associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution, including artificial intelligence (AI) applications, such as online bots, autonomous vehicles, UAVs, drones, robotics, in addition to virtual and augmented reality applications, 3D printing, Blockchain technologies, cryptocurrencies, sharing economy services and Internet of Things (IoT) devices, such as wearables, connected cars and smart homes systems.
“According to our research, there are more than 460 million personal IoT devices in the Arab region used by 173 million internet users today. The number of personal IoT devices will almost double to 890 million by 2020 and will interact with 208 million users in the region,” said Fadi Salem, MBRSG’s Director of Research and Advisory and author of the study. “This infrastructure of internet-connected things and people, will trigger new digital transformations and enable technologies associated with the fourth industrial revolution, such as Artificial Intelligence, to go mainstream in the Arab region. This will require new sets of policy responses.”
The report indicates that readiness for the technological advancements associated with the Fourth-Industrial-Revolution is high in the region. For example, more than 70% of internet users said that they are willing to use 3D printing applications if made available at reasonable costs. Likewise, personal robotics, virtual reality and driverless cars applications were viewed as something half of respondents are willing to use if made available at reasonable costs. Meanwhile Blockchain and cryptocurrencies scored the highest levels of uncertainty in terms of respondents’ readiness to use them. Around a third of respondents said that they are not sure if they will use Blockchain applications even if they are made available and accessible to them at reasonable costs today. Meanwhile, readiness for using UAVs and drones is the lowest in the region compared to the other emerging technologies.
When it comes to artificial intelligence (AI), the study reveals that AI applications, such as AI-based chatbots, are for the most part positively viewed by the public, especially when used for customer service and commercial uses. Nevertheless, respondents expressed concerns regarding privacy, safety and the ethical implications of artificial intelligence. Furthermore, respondents reiterated their concern for safety, as well as economic ramifications, of implementing AI technologies in self-driving cars. “Clearly, artificial Intelligence applications provoke the most concerns among people in the Arab region. In total 59% of internet users in the Arab region are concerned about AI in general or about AI-related applications such as driverless cars, which makes it a priority area for policy responses by governments in the region” Salem added.
Meanwhile, with increased online presence, people around the region have voiced concerns regarding cyberterrorism, cybercrimes and cyberbullying. “The top 5 cyber Arab internet users are cyberterrorism, cybercrimes, cyberbullying, fake news online, and commercial exploitation” Salem added. On average, 75% internet users in the region said that they have experienced at least one type of cyber threat during the past two years. These include viruses, scams, hacking, bullying, harassment, identity theft, data breaches, extortion or ransomware. The report looks into which areas require further attention to address online challenges: Around 8% of internet users in the region said that they do not take any cybersecurity measure when online, while one out of five does not use any antivirus application, and only 40% of them use Firewall applications when online.
However, few Arab countries having set future-driven policies and strategies to prepare for the advent of these innovations. In terms of policy responses priority, the survey said governments should offer skill building for the digital economy (such as coding workshops, for example) as policy to address the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, including for children, in addition to supporting research and development.
In his address during the launch of the report, Prof. Raed Awamleh, Dean of the Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Government commented on the report’s findings: “It is important to highlight that upskilling, education, and research and development, are the top three areas where policy responses are required for this new era of development according to the survey findings. Policymaker should take note of the public awareness and appreciation of what priorities should be put in place to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the fourth industrial revolution.”
Dr. Ali Al-Marri, Executive President of Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Government commented on the launch of the report by saying: “Building the government of the future requires that policymakers in the region have better understanding of the multifaceted dynamics of the ongoing digital transformations brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution in the Arab Region. During this fast-changing phase, the School will continue to empower future leaders through educational activities and evidence-based policy research.”
As the title suggests, the Arab World Online 2017 report examines online activity around the Arab world, looking into how Arab users consume online material and services, including sharing economy services, instant messaging apps, and video and voice calling apps. The study revealed that media and news consumption online has increased over the past two years: More than 92% of respondents reported using the internet for socialising on monthly basis, making it by far the most popular online behaviour, while some 79% of people said that they consume news online on monthly basis.
Additionally, 77% of users in the region use the internet for career-oriented goals on a monthly basis, whereas 72% consume music, video and multimedia online, 26% use it monthly for gaming purposes, and 68% use it for educational activities, including researching and taking online courses. E-Commerce was less prevalent in the region with 40% of respondents doing online shopping and retail activities at least once a month, while a third of them (33%) use online government services online on a monthly basis. When asked about sharing services and open data, 82% of respondent thought it important for the government to use open data.
The report also estimates that online monthly spending online has increased from 2.7 billion dollars two years ago, to 7.3 billion dollars today. Rabea Ataya, CEO, Bayt.com, said during the launch: “When we started Bayt.com in 2000, internet usage in the Arab world was still in its infancy, but even then we realized that it could have an amazing impact on people’s lives. This is one reason why this growth enabled us to create a medium to empower millions of people in the region to lead better lives by providing them with the online tools, technology, and information to lead lifestyles of their choice. Today, there is still massive opportunity to leverage technology to improve the lives of the people of our region.”
The Arab World Online report series is a collaborative effort between the research team at the Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Government and Bayt.com, examining digital transformation in the Arab region over the past five years. This third edition of the series continues its assessment of what it refers to as the “decade of digital transformation” in the Arab region. It examines penetration trends of internet, mobile, broadband, messaging apps, social media and IoT in the region between 2010-2020. This third volume of the report also provides projections on the growth trends towards the year 2021. The findings are based on a mass regional survey of almost 20,000 respondents from 22 Arab countries.
The full report is available for download on MBRSG’s website: www.mbrsg.ac.ae. Launched in 2005, the Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Government is the first research and teaching institution that focuses on governance and public policy in the Arab world. The School offers a combination of education and training programmes, in addition to research and studies, in order to empower future leaders and offer scientific basis for decision making.