How is AI regulated in the UAE? What lawyers need to know

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is revolutionizing industries across the globe, and the UAE is at the forefront of adopting and regulating this transformative technology. As the country strives to balance innovation with ethical considerations, understanding the ever-changing regulatory landscape is crucial. This is especially true for lawyers, who increasingly function as key advisors on the responsible use of AI. 

This article delves into how AI is regulated in the UAE. It gives a thorough overview of the government policies and ethical principles that govern its use. 

The current state of AI in the UAE 

Supportive government initiatives have influenced the impact of AI in both the public, private and education sectors. The UAE’s government has integrated AI into various public sectors, including healthcare, finance, and transportation. For instance, AI is used to enhance public services, such as traffic management systems and healthcare diagnostics. 

Startups in the UAE focused on AI usage, implementation and strategies are thriving, and Dubai and Abu Dhabi are home to tech hubs. The government offers incentives and incubators to encourage AI entrepreneurs. There has also been significant investment in the region. A prime example is Microsoft investing $1.5 billion in Abu Dhabi’s G42, an AI technology holding company.  

The nation is also pioneering AI literacy and innovation through education. The Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI) is the first university of its kind. It will continue to foster talent and research in AI in the region.  

In collaboration with global tech leaders like IBM, MBZUAI is advancing AI capabilities and contributing to breakthroughs. These are seen in areas such as climate modelling and cultural preservation.  

This robust AI infrastructure positions the UAE as a leader in the ethical and responsible use of AI.  

How can AI be regulated? 

Regulating a technology as fast-moving as AI requires a multifaceted approach. Globally, countries are adopting multi-pronged strategies to safeguard its usage. These include comprehensive legislation, sector-specific laws, national AI strategies, and voluntary guidelines to regulate the diverse applications of AI. The core goal is to mitigate the risks posed by technology while promoting innovation. 

Leading the charge on the initial actions on AI regulatory landscape  is The EU’s Artificial Intelligence Act. Passed in March 2024, the Act is the world’s first comprehensive AI-specific regulation. It is also a blueprint for regulatory models worldwide. The act uses a three-tiered system to regulate AI technologies based on their potential impact on fundamental rights and safety. Under the model, applications and systems that pose an ‘unacceptable risk’ are banned.  

Meanwhile, ‘high risk’ applications must comply with specific legal requirements. Applications that do not fall under either category are able to operate ‘largely unregulated.’  

What is the UAE’s government policy on AI? 

The UAE government has established a robust policy framework for AI. This began in 2017, when the nation became the first country to establish an AI ministry referred to as the  Artificial Intelligence, Digital Economy and Remote Work Applications office  It is part of the UAE Council for Artificial Intelligence and Blockchain established in 2018.  

The council includes representatives from local governments and governmental bodies, and is chaired by the Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, Digital Economy and Remote Work Application. Its main objectives are to monitor the progress of AI initiatives, promote the growth of AI and innovation as well as overseeing and implementing AI—focused regulation. This includes developing essential infrastructure such as data security. It also leads the way for a stronger governance framework and effective regulation via various initiatives including, for example, an intergovernmental panel.  

The Council collaborates with regulatory bodies to ensure that AI applications are consistent with the country’s goals.  

Today, the National AI Strategy 2031 is a cornerstone of the UAE government’s AI policy. The strategy aims to position the UAE as a global leader in AI. One measure of this is to integrate AI technology across various sectors, including healthcare, education, and transportation. To achieve this, the strategy outlines several key objectives. These include the development of AI talent and fostering public and private sector partnerships. Finally, it also promotes the ethical use of AI through specific guidelines. 

What are the UAE’s Ethics Principles? 

The field of ethical AI has grown in tandem with the technology itself. Its principles have become guiding guardrails that aim to protect humanity and the environment. 

Ethical AI is integral to fostering trust in AI technologies throughout society and mitigating potential harms. The UAE’s AI Ethics Principles provide a foundational ethical framework for AI development and deployment.  

Issued by the Artificial Intelligence, Digital Economy and Remote Work Office, the principles aim to ensure that AI technologies are used responsibly and ethically. The key principles include: 

  1. Transparency: Ensuring that AI systems and their decision-making processes are understandable and accessible to users.
  2. Accountability: Establishing clear lines of responsibility for the development and use of AI systems.
  3. Fairness: Mitigating bias in AI systems to ensure equitable treatment of all individuals and groups.  

Digital Dubai, a Dubai Government platform established in 2021, has also released an Ethical AI Toolkit that businesses can turn to for practical guidance and resources including a self-assessment tool. 

Businesses are encouraged to conduct regular AI audits and assessments to align with the UAE’s ethical principles and regulatory requirements. This proactive approach not only mitigates risks but also positions companies as leaders in responsible AI adoption. By following these guidelines, businesses can leverage AI to drive innovation while complying with best practices and ethical guidelines issued within the UAE legal framework. 

How is AI regulated in the UAE? 

The UAE’s AI regulatory framework is made up of national strategy, ethical guidelines and its built-for-purpose AI institutions. Several existing regulations work together to govern the use of AI, including data protection laws and intellectual property rights. 

While at the time of writing there is no AI-specific regulation, changes are being made to existing legislation. 

In September 2023, the Dubai International Financial Center amended its Data Protection Regulations to encompass the processing of data via autonomous and semi-autonomous systems such as AI. Regulation 10 marks the first mention of AI in UAE legislation  

The amendment, says Jacques Fisser, DIFC Commissioner of Data Protection, “provides a more collaborative, transparent way of creating and maintaining an innovative yet safe autonomous system.” 

Does AI raise risks of emerging bias harms in the UAE? 

AI, while offering transformative potential, also presents risks, particularly in the form of emerging biases. Many AI datasets are trained on Western datasets that do not offer a nuanced local perspective.  A balance between ethical principles, bias mitigation and local datasets is crucial for maintaining public trust and ensuring that AI advancements contribute positively to the nation’s development. 

Legal AI solutions from global leaders like Thomson Reuters adhere to strict Trust Principles and Data Principles. Thomson Reuters’ commitment to safety and bias guardrails ensures that their AI models are designed with multiple global jurisdictions in mind. 

As well as addressing potential biases, the approach is in line with UAE’s own ethical principles. 

Staying ahead and navigating UAE’s AI regulations 

The UAE is leading AI regulation in the MENA region, balancing innovation with ethical considerations. The government has launched several initiatives to integrate AI into the economy, aiming to contribute significantly to the UAE’s GDP from non-oil sectors. 

The UAE Government regularly organizes various conferences, expert talks, informative and educational seminars/webinars on AI, its usage, benefits, implementation strategies and balancing risks. 

The UAE’s approach includes: 

  • Encouraging AI adoption across industries. 
  • Implementing AI ethics guidelines and self-assessment tools for businesses. 
  • Piloting international AI procurement guidelines. 

This multifaceted strategy ensures that AI development aligns with national interests and ethical standards, fostering trust and responsible innovation. 

For lawyers and legal professionals, staying abreast of these developments is essential to navigate the evolving landscape of AI governance. By understanding the UAE’s regulatory framework, legal professionals can better advise their clients and contribute to the responsible development of AI technologies. And better yet, it is the pathway to making continued innovation a reality. 

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