When AI Goes Rogue

This article originally appeared on GulfNews.com on 25th August 2017

As a software engineering undergraduate of the late 1990s, I developed a simple Artificial Intelligence (AI) application to process bank loan applications. Today AI is driving cars, diagnosing disease and choosing what we see on our screens.

According to the dictionary, AI is defined as:

“The study of how to produce machines that have some of the qualities that the human mind has, such as the ability to understand language, recognise pictures, solve problems, and learn.”

This is one of the world’s most understated definitions of all time. Here is — what I feel — a more accurate definition:

“The study of how to produce machines that can have all of the qualities that the human mind has and more, including the ability to understand language, recognise pictures, solve problems, and learn ad infinitum without the limitations of speed, breadth or depth imposed by biology”

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Middle East Tech Landscape

Several months ago I came across an infographic mapping marketplace tech startups to their relevant category on Craigslist. I kept it on my desk for a while as a reference and thought it would be nice if we had something similar for the Middle East.

So here it is, click the image for full-size, feel free to share.

Download the Middle East Tech Landscape as PDF [5MB]

Note: this is by no means a list of the largest/best capitalised/most successful startups. It’s just an interesting exercise to visualise which areas are getting the most attention from founders.

Retail is Dead, Long Live Retail

This article originally appeared in Gulf News on 31st March 2017

First Amazon, then Emaar Malls — everyone wanted a piece of the 11-year old Souq.com.

Although Amazon finally won, some questioned why a mall operator would want to buy an online retailer. There is a logic, particularly if one looks at highly developed retail markets such as the US.

In recent quarters we’ve seen a significant slowdown in US brick-and-mortar retailers. Store closures are skyrocketing. Macy’s announced 100 closures; Walmart is closing 269 across 154 locations; Kmart/Sears are shuttering 78 stores and Ralph Lauren 50.

Other retailers have found themselves bankrupt, notably American Apparel, Sporting Authority and Aeropostale. This may not reflect as much about the US economy as it does consumer behaviour.

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Fundraising risks for UAE start-ups

This article originally appeared in The National on 30th March 2017

At Dubai Internet City’s tech incubator “in5”, dozens of start-ups from all over the world have pitched to us with the hope of being selected to join our community. I’ve followed several of the most promising ideas to the stage where the priority was to scale up, which required funding.

Many start-ups in the UAE look to Silicon Valley for inspiration and advice that includes how to raise money from investors. Start-up ecosystem legend Paul Graham and his now famous Y Combinator have published guides on how to fundraise and a series of well-designed legal templates for start-ups to use. This has saved many expensive legal fees when drafting com­pany formation and fundraising documents.

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Taxes will not derail the UAE dream

This article originally appeared in Gulf News on 5th March 2016

A recent article penned by the thoughtful and outspoken Emirati commentator Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi — titled “The Gulf’s New Social Contract” — is illustrative of the economic changes underway in our region. It mentions what scholars like to refer to as a century-old unwritten agreement they claim exists between Gulf governments and their people — specifically no taxation.

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The GCC tech jobs fallacy

This article originally appeared in Gulf News on 31st December 2015

The Middle East’s demographic time bomb is well known.

According to the World Economic Forum, the region of around 370 million people is home to 40 million underemployed youth and boasts the world’s highest youth unemployment rate of 27 per cent.

In the Gulf, the figures are lower, as bloated public sectors have absorbed the stream of graduates pouring out of schools and universities. Over half of the population today is under the age of 30, implying a growing labour force for decades to come.

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Investment Dar’s overlooked creditors

This article originally appeared in Gulf News on 12th July 2011

It’s usually small equity investors in Kuwait that suffer the unfair and predatory practices of larger investors, this time, however, small creditors face a similar fate.

In 2009, The Investment Dar (TID) missed a payment on a $100 million (Dh367 million) sukuk, defaulted and ceased to service its $3.7 billion debt pile.

The problem’s resolution requires complex financial and legal decisions that should ensure lenders to TID are protected and repaid.

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Kuwait Shouldn’t Waste a Good Crisis

This article originally appeared in Gulf News on 15th January 2010

Kuwaiti politics has once again found its way into the pages of the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal. As recently as December 2008, Kuwaiti parliament members made headlines because they voted against the government and walked away from a multi-billion dollar joint venture with the US Dow Chemical Company.

Perhaps the fact that Kuwait has one of the highest GDPs per capita explains why a country with a footprint the size of the state of New Jersey or Wales in the UK is so highly charged and overly politicised.

As economic weakness persists and elections draw closer, the rhetoric has gathered momentum over the past 12 months, resulting in a parliamentary proposal to restructure a significant portion of Kuwaiti consumer debt.

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