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Say hello to AI, our new fellow board member

AI and machine learning - Wikimedia
Suzanne Locke 7 September 2022
HE Khalfan Belhoul, chief executive of Dubai Future Foundation, argues that a key disruptor for the boardroom will be artificial intelligence, to both help directors assess risk and to assess their own performance. He also says the metaverse will help boards meet and simulate scenarios – but that adaptation and honing soft skills remain key for directors.
Since the birth of humanity, certain characteristics have defined great leaders. Our forefathers in the UAE exemplified and embodied resiliency, agility, risk-taking, distrusting the status quo and foresight.
Today we are living in unprecedented times and an era of rapid change. With the rapid global changes and technological advancement, our leadership is not only embodying those same traits but is taking them to a whole new level.
The very existence of Dubai is evidence of our innate ability to champion and pursue growth and development.
Dubai has been transformed into a globally connected hub and a leading destination for doing business.  No other city has evolved as quickly to become a leading global destination.
This transformation has been down to our leaders and their willingness to embrace and drive disruption.
Today, we are continuing the legacy of our forebears by pioneering new sectors of the economy and supporting digitalisation.
This spirit of innovation, adaptability and ambition can be seen within boardrooms across the Emirates.
When it comes to disruptive technology, the most successful directors are those who are able to couple these traits with effective strategising and foresight.

AI in the boardroom

Artificial intelligence (AI) certainly offers significant opportunities to bolster internal business processes.
More broadly, AI will grow to play a greater role in the management of boards, leading to more efficient and informed decision-making, guided by detailed AI-based simulations of risk.
The use of AI will become one of the parameters to assess whether directors acted on an informed basis, and AI tools will routinely be used in board meetings to analyse big data in real time.

How AI can help boards with decision-making

AI image, courtesy PublicDomainPicturesnet
AI is increasingly transforming business processes and strategies across industries, and equally so in enhancing internal decision-making processes and governance through advanced analytical models and robust risk-management methods.
AI can contribute to decision-making by:
  • Making predictions of future events, based on big data and machine learning.
  • Assessing the pay-offs of a judgment more accurately by eliminating human biases.
  • Qualifying and quantifying uncertainties, based on statistical data and previous experience.
  • Suggesting courses of actions or additional options that have been over-looked by human decision-makers.
  • Predicting the behaviour and preferences of customers or competitors.
  • Suggesting how to adapt the company’s business strategies
  • Monitoring business performance.
  • Developing financial forecasts.
  • Testing business proposals or assumptions.
  • Testing developments in manufacturing process and applications of new technologies.
  • Potentially increasing the quality of the information on which board resolutions are based.
  • Helping directors in monitoring and anticipating business risks with advanced risk management tools.
However, directors should carefully assess how to use AI consistently with their duties and be aware of ongoing ethical issues related to AI as a computing ‘black box’, a device, system or program that allows you to see the input and output, but gives no view of the processes and workings between.
It has been argued that AI could even replace the work of corporate leaders and officials through machine intelligence reporting directly to a human board.
This is a subject for debate – can technology really fulfil the decision-making ability of humans on boards?

The metaverse and the future of boards

The metaverse will become part of the board agenda – as are all developments in the technology space.
Bringing both opportunities and risk (such as inter-operability, security and privacy), the directions that the metaverse will take are many, and based on that, we can imagine the impact it will have on boards.
  • Digital twins will help simulate different scenarios and see outcomes, test environments, and simulate opportunities and challenges, further enhancing the role of decision-making in boards.
  • Training in the metaverse can help develop and upskill future directors, particularly Generation Z, and includes others who need to be represented in future boards given calls for increased focus on environment, sustainability and corporate governance (ESG) and increasing risks associated with
  • Meetings in the metaverse boosts board productivity and diversity by improving remote meetings and providing access to potential board directors, experts and executives globally. The metaverse gives unlimited space for ideas, visualisation of problems and/ or solutions, improved engagements amongst board directors and executives.
Metaverse meetings are highly relevant to boards. Because of travel restrictions and the convenience of virtual meetings, most boards did not meet in person in 2021, according to the 2021 US Spencer Stuart Board Index, even though they met more often, at 9.4 times on average compared to 7.9 meetings on average in 2020.
The biggest challenge when it comes to the metaverse is: who will govern it? Does it even need governance? Will this speed up the disappearance of boards?

Soft skills vs technical skills

The future will undoubtedly be defined by new technologies. Our daily lives will be very different in the future as digitalisation marches its way into every sector of the economy and element of our lives.
But when we anticipate and foresee the future, we must not only consider various sectors and fields from a technological standpoint. We must look at it too from a human perspective.
In parallel with anticipating new solutions, we must predict the kind of soft skills humans will need to adopt.
We must ask ourselves which human traits will enable us to transform challenges into opportunities and thrive in an ever-changing world?
And as we increase our reliance on technology, we ought to ask ourselves what will it mean to be human as the world around us transforms? What are the attributes that will define us?
It will be our innate ability to be curious, creative and solve problems; our ability to adapt and ask questions.
But there will be an increasing onus on skills in self-management, such as active learning, resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility.
Soft skills will become just as important as technical skills, if not more.
According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2020, the top 10 skills for 2025 will include:
  1. Analytical thinking and innovation
  2. Active learning and learning strategies
  3. Complex problem-solving
  4. Critical thinking and analysis
  5. Creativity, originality and initiative
  6. Leadership and social influence
  7. Technology use, monitoring and control
  8. Technology design and programming
  9. Resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility
  10. Reasoning, problem-solving and ideation

How Dubai Future Foundation enables future leaders

HE Khalfan Belhoul, CEO of Dubai Future Foundation
Dubai Future Foundation was established to foresee the future of strategic sectors, and to position Dubai as a leading city of the future and a hub that attracts innovators, entrepreneurs, talents and industry experts to co-create the future.
We do this through a number of programmes and initiatives, aimed at leadership development and embracing technological change.
While these programmes relate to the future of technology and strategic sectors, human development remains at the heart of what we do. After all, it is people who will drive these sectors to the future.

Dubai Future Foundation’s leadership projects

Many our projects support leadership development against a backdrop of technological change:
  • The Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution UAE (C4IR UAE) : A collaboration between the Dubai Future Foundation and the World Economic Forum and is the first affiliate centre in the MENA region.
  • One Million Arab Coders (OMAC) : An initiative that empowers Arab youth with the language of the future and prepares the next generation of technology experts.
  • Museum of the Future : The museum embodies DFF’s objectives and inspires and empowers people to imagine a brighter future.
  • AREA 2071 , the ‘physical manifestation of the UAE’s full century of innovation’: An innovation ecosystem that brings together talent, government, the private sector and other great minds to collaborate.  

The women of Dubai Future Foundation

Female leaders at Dubai Future Foundation: L-R Mariam AlMheiri, head of C4IR UAE; Maitha Al Mazroei, architectural engineer and senior project manager, Museum of the Future; Alia Al Mur, chief transformation and partnerships officer; and Azza AlSharhan, chief of corporate affairs
I’d also like to mention some of the exemplary female leaders at DFF who are trail-blazing a path to the future:
  • Mariam AlMheiri, head of C4IR UAE
  • Maitha Al Mazroei, architectural engineer and senior project manager, Museum of the Future
  • Alia Al Mur, chief transformation and partnerships officer
  • Azza AlSharhan, chief of corporate affairs

‘Human capital is true wealth’

The investment in humanity is an absolute priority, and human capital is the true wealth. HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai
Image of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, shown on Dubai Future Foundation’s Museum of the Future – courtesy of WAM
For centuries, humans have had to adapt to change. It is our ability to adapt quickly that has defined us and seen us achieve so much here in the UAE.
Today, there is more emphasis than ever on our ability to adapt and innovate. These traits have helped humanity to thrive are now crucial to our survival.
At DFF, we know that adapting alone is not enough. We cannot sit; we must be bold and drive change. We must foresee challenges and transform them into opportunities.
We must champion transparency, accountability, diversity, and sustainability.
While we will undoubtedly continue to purse technological advancement, we cannot disregard the importance of investing our time, efforts and resources into ourselves.
You are not only building the future of your organisations, you are helping to construct the boardrooms of the future.
HE Khalfan was speaking at a workshop on disruption for participants of Aurora50’s Pathway20 accelerator to ready women board directors for their first independent board role.