An Inside Look at the First Nation With a State Minister for Artificial Intelligence

Prioritizing the Future

From robots that can flawlessly perform backflips to electric cars that can go over 950 km (600 miles) on a single charge, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the future is far closer than we may have previously thought. If the missteps of the industrial revolution are any indicator, we need to start planning for that future today.

And it seems that this is precisely what the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is trying to do.

The nation’s efforts are mainly concentrated in the city of Dubai, which is already home to a number of futuristic projects, including plans to create a “Mars science city” and build a real life hyperloop, programs for renewable energy and electric vehicles, and tests for flying taxis and even flying jetpacks. Dubai even has an accelerator program aimed at expediting the creation of these various futuristic technologies.

Of course, no plan for the future can be complete without considering the role that artificial intelligence (AI) will play, so on October 19, the UAE became the first nation with a government minister dedicated to AI. Yes, the UAE now has a minister for artificial intelligence.

Dubai: City of the Future [INFOGRAPHIC]
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“We want the UAE to become the world’s most prepared country for artificial intelligence,” UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum said during the announcement of the position, according to Gulf News.

The first person to occupy the state minister for AI post is H.E. Omar Bin Sultan Al Olama. The 27-year-old is currently the Managing Director of the World Government Summit in the Prime Minister’s Office at the Ministry of Cabinet Affairs and the Future, and he holds degrees in Project Management and Excellence from the American University of Sharjah and a Bachelor of Business Administration from the American University of Dubai.

Just days prior to the announcement of this position, on October 16, Sheikh Mohammed officially launched the UAE’s AI strategy. According to the government’s official webpage, it is the first of its kind in the world.

AI as Ubiquitous Tech

The goal is also to make the UAE a leader when it comes to AI research, development, and innovation. “In the UAE, we understand the positives and the potential for AI,” Al Olama told Futurism. “We have visionary leadership that wants to implement these technologies to serve humanity better. Ultimately, we want to make sure that we leverage that while, at the same time, overcoming the challenges that might be created by AI.”

Concretely, the UAE’s AI strategy covers development and application in nine sectors: Transport, health, space, renewable energy, water, technology, education, environment, and traffic.

The technology’s impact on education, in particular, could be quite dramatic, according to Al Olama. “With the internet, we’ve seen a generation that has so much knowledge,” he said. “Imagine if AI was able to help us deliver that content in a way that makes people understand it, memorize it, and be thought leaders in it. I don’t think the future will have tests, exams, or strict memorization. AI will help us actually make a more collaborative and personal learning process.”

He continues by noting that AI can do more than just help us learn new skills — it can help us learn what skills we have a natural aptitude for: “It will help us be able to identify what each person is good at, and then allow us to determine how to make sure that everyone has the information delivery method that they need in order to excel.”

For the UAE and Dubai, the potential for AI is obvious, and education is just the beginning. They hope to ensure that the tech eventually makes its way to all sectors of society that can benefit from it — including almost every single facet of modern governance.

In the official release, the UAE notes that the ultimate goal is to “provide all services via AI and [fully integrate] AI into medical and security services.” According to the same release, harnessing the power of AI would translate to a 50 percent savings in annual government costs by streamlining the nation’s 250 million yearly paper transactions, which currently require 190 million hours and 1 billion kilometers (621 million miles) in travel. Of course, AI’s potential as far as governance is convened goes beyond just this. The UAE’s strategy also includes the creation of a “new vital market with high economic value.”

Building the Future

The UAE hopes its AI initiatives will encourage the rest of the world to really consider how our AI-powered future should look. “AI is not negative or positive. It’s in between. The future is not going to be a black or white. As with every technology on Earth, it really depends on how we use it and how we implement it,” said Al Olama. “People need to be part of the discussion. It’s not one of those things that just a select group of people need to discuss and focus on.”

“AI is not negative or positive. It’s in between. The future is not going to be a black or white.”

To that end, they hope to bring governments, organizations, and everyday citizens together. “At this point, it’s really about starting conversations — beginning conversations about regulations and figuring out what needs to be implemented in order to get to where we want to be. I hope that we can work with other governments and the private sector to help in our discussions and to really increase global participation in this debate. With regards to AI, one country can’t do everything. It’s a global effort,” Al Olama said.

Today’s biggest tech companies, led by Google and Amazon, want to put AI at the core of their businesses, and the UAE and Dubai hope to do the same for an entire nation.

Disclaimer: The Dubai Future Foundation works in collaboration with Futurism and is one of our sponsors.

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“Space Kingdom” Asgardia Says It’s the First Nation with All of Its Territory in Orbit

The self-declared Space Kingdom of Asgardia, a nation founded by a Russian aerospace engineer and billionaire, just deployed its first satellite into orbit.

Asgardia is currently a non-profit non-governmental organization based out of Vienna, Austria. But its leaders want to eventually build a kingdom in space that mines asteroids and defends planet Earth from meteorites, space debris, and other threats.

“Asgardia will be a space nation that is a trans-ethnic, trans-national, trans-religious, ethical, peaceful entity trying to settle the humanity in space,” Ram Jakhu, the director of McGill University’s Institute of Air and Space Law and one of Asgardia’s founding members, said during a June press briefing.

asgardia 1 nanosat space nation
The Asgardia-1 nanosat. Asgardia; Lena De Winne/Twitter

Its new satellite is called Asgardia-1. The blocky object is technically called a nano satellite or “nanosat,” weighs about as much as a newborn baby, and is roughly the size of a loaf of bread.

Asgardia‘s tiny spacecraft contains a 512-gigabyte hard drive loaded with “the nation’s constitution, national symbols, and the personally selected data of the Asgardian citizenship,” according to a statement emailed to Business Insider.

“Asgardia-1 has now been deployed in a low earth orbit,” the statement said, “making Asgardia the first nation to have all of its territory in space.”

But at least one space law researcher says that, legally speaking, the feat may be “much ado about nothing.”

Asgardia’s first satellite

The plan to launch the satellite was announced during a press briefing and June 13, and the effort was funded by Asgardia co-founder Igor Ashurbeyli, a Russian aerospace engineer and billionaire.

Asgardia worked with several companies to make its mission possible. NearSpace Launch helped design and build Asgardia-1, and aerospace company Orbital ATK launched the nanosat inside a Cygnus spacecraft bound for the International Space Station.

The Cygnus left the space station on Wednesday, rocketed to a higher altitude, and shot Asgardia-1 and two other nanosats into space with a spring-loaded cannon built by NanoRacks.

Asgardia-1 won’t do much more than orbit Earth from about 280 miles above the planet, though it does store data submitted by Asgardian citizens. There are currently about 154,000 citizens of Asgardia, and the first 100,000 to register were promised 500 kilobytes of space each for upload on the hard drive (500 kb is less than the data used by one frame of a typical DVD video).

“Maybe the photo of your little cat or of your neighbor, of your mother, or a child… whatever comes to your mind, this will be for as long as Asgardia exists. In other words, forever,” Ashurbeyli said in June.

All the files Asgardians uploaded are visible to fellow citizens, and the platform is accepting more for future spacecraft. So far, nearly 14,000 Asgardians have contributed files, including poems, personal letters, songs, and photos of weddings, cats, dogs, birds, aliens, and even President Donald Trump shaking the hand of India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi.

Asgardia-1 will slowly fall toward Earth over the next five years and eventually burn up in the planet’s atmosphere. But Ashurbeyli said in June that the data uploaded will be copied to future Asgardian satellites, as well as spacecraft that go to “the moon and anywhere in the universe … Asgardia will be.”

‘Much ado about nothing’?

With the satellite successfully deployed into space, the nation will now turn to its parliamentary elections that run through March 2018, according to Asgardia’s statement.

“Anyone who is 18 or older, and has accepted the Constitution of Asgardia, will automatically be assigned to an electoral district which represents their spoken language,” the statement said.

asgardia space nation website logo
An illustration of Asgardia’s original emblem.

Asgardia has enough people who’ve applied for citizenship to qualify for consideration as a state by the United Nations, since the minimum is 100,000. But it’s unlikely the world will acknowledge Asgardia as a sovereign nation, even now that it has claimed territory in space.

“Legally speaking this is much ado about nothing,” Frans von der Dunk, a professor of space law at Nebraska College of Law, told Business Insider in an email. “The concept of territory has been pretty well defined in international law, and it does not include ‘artificial’ territory such as satellites anymore than it does include ships, aircraft or oil platforms.”

Asgardia, he added, is “nowhere near a state in the classic sense of the word — even if you accept that the satellite has quasi-territory.”

But the biggest problem for Asgardian sovereignty, von der Dunk said, is the lack of a permanent population in space. Even then it’s a stretch, he said, citing several examples of nations, including Palestine and Taiwan, which have territory and a large permanent population, yet lack a functional government — and thus aren’t recognized as states. (Legal experts also see other issues beyond Asgardia’s territorial claims and statehood, as Motherboard previously reported.)

Business Insider previously contacted the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs(UNOOSA) for clarification on whether current space law would permit the existence of a nation and territory in space, but UNOOSA representatives did not answer our query.

Instead, UNOOSA directed us to the text of five UN treaties that govern activities in outer space. Article II of the first and most important part of that legal framework, called the Outer Space Treaty, prohibits “national appropriation” of anything in outer space “by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.”

But von der Dunk doesn’t think Asgardia, or something like it in the future, couldn’t eventually form a recognized nation or state in space.

“This may be the germ that 50 years from now will create a true nation in outer space,” von der Dunk told Popular Science last year.

How to build a space kingdom

asgardia space nation colony inside illustration
An illustration of a space colony. Asgardia/James Vaughan

For now, Asgardia’s proclaimed territory — i.e. Asgardia-1 — is actually bound by US law, since American companies launched it from US soil aboard a primarily NASA-funded mission.

But Asgardia’s founders eventually want to launch a space station and have people live there permanently.

“We’ll start small and eventually people will be going there, and working, and having their own rules and regulations … This facility will become an independent nation,” Jakhu previously told Business Insider.

No public details exist yet as to what an early colony might look like, how big it will be, or what expense it’d incur. However, building space stations of any size or kind and putting people on them is a very, very expensive proposition. The football-field-sized ISS, for example, took 18 nations and more than $ 100 billion to build. Meanwhile, the cheapest ride to orbit today is SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which costs between about $ 43 million and $ 65 million per launch.

An Asgardia spokesperson declined to disclose the organization’s funding when Business Insider asked in October 2016, but claimed billionaire backer Ashurbeyli had put forth a substantial amount of money (via his company, Aerospace International Research Center) to keep the Asgardia project going.

Asgardia’s organizers have drawn plenty of criticism, but Jakhu brushes it off.

“Anyone who tries out-of-the-box things is initially ridiculed,” Jakhu previously said. “Everything that’s amazing starts with a crazy idea. After a while, science fiction becomes science fact, and this is an idea which is just being initiated.”

This story was updated with new information after its original publication on December 7, 2017.

Disclosure: The author of this post registered as a citizen of Asgardia as part of his reporting.

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The World’s First “Space Nation” Just Launched a Satellite Into Orbit

One Small Step for Asgardians

The Asgardia-1 satellite launched aboard the NASA commercial vessel OA-8 Antares-Cygnus from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia to the International Space Station (ISS) on November 12. If you’re an Asgardian, you’d probably note the date as November 12, 0001.

In October 2016, Russian scientist Igor Ashurbeyl set out to create the first “space nation.” His creation, Asgardia, is now described on its website as a “space kingdom,” and the Asgardia-1 satellite is its first presence in space.

Piece by Piece: The International Space Station (INFOGRAPHIC)
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While it’s a rather small presence — the “nanosat” is barely the size of a loaf of bread — the satellite does fulfill a promise Ashurbeyl made to early supporters of his new kind of nation.

“I promised there would be a launch,” Ashurbeyl, who was present during the launch, told CNN. “We selected NASA as a reliable partner…because we have to meet the commitments that I made 13 months ago.” From the ISS, Asgardia-1 will be deployed into low-orbit space, where it will stay for around five to 18 months before burning out and disappearing.

Indeed, sending Asgardia-1 to space is an achievement for the space nation’s citizens, who are still based on Earth. The nanosat contained 0.5 TB of data from 18,000 of Asgardia’s citizens, including family photographs and digital representations Asgardia’s flag, coat of arms, and recently ratified constitution.

The launch of Asgardia-1 wasn’t just about fulfilling a promise or sending data into space, though.

To be considered for admission into the United Nations, a nation must meet four conditions. According to an Asgardian press release, three of those conditions — a constitution, a government, and a currency — have already been met: “Asgardia’s Constitution has already been accepted; its cryptocurrency, the Solar, is registered at the European Union Intellectual Property Office; and the government formation is underway.”

By establishing the nation’s sovereign territory in space, Asgardia-1 meets the final condition: a territory.

Space Nation-Building

Asgardia is as much a scientific mission as it is a social experiment.

Concretely, it’s a nation-building effort, which is why citizens are working toward recognition from the United Nations. However, whether they gain this recognition or not, setting up a space nation requires more than just a political identity. First of all, Asgardia has to actually be in space. Otherwise, it risks becoming just a group of people who think of space as their home.

Image Credit: Asgardia

To do this, Asgardia plans to establish an orbital space station and a colony on the Moon.“It will be a four-level orbital station. I think the technical details will be defined by the Ministry of Science, which I hope we will have in the autumn of this year,” said Ashurbeyl at a press conference back in June.

How long before that space station and lunar colony come to fruition is anyone’s guess, but the number of people joining Asgardia is quite telling. Today, there are some 114,000 Asgardians from 204 Earth-based nations. That’s a drop from the 211,000 back in June, but Asgardia is only including those who ratified their constitution.

With Asgardia accepting anyone above the age of 18 — even convicts so long as they are clear of charges — what the nation represents, perhaps, is a chance to start over and participate in the formation of an “ideal” society, whether it actually gets off the ground or not.

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Virtual nation Asgardia has launched itself into space

Last year, Russian scientist Igor Ashurbeyli announced the formation of Asgardia — a new virtual nation that will ultimately exist entirely in space. Since its debut, Asgardia has attracted over 300,000 registrants, created a constitution and, as of…
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European Nation Set to Be 100% Renewable in Two Years

Scottish Power Leads European Pace

Last week, Ireland’s Citizens’ Assembly met to debate how the country could establish itself as a world leader in the fight against climate change. During the gathering, members heard how the nearby European nation of Scotland has managed to get on track to supply 100 percent of its electricity via renewables by 2020.

Over the past fifteen years, Scotland has gone from garnering 10 percent of its electricity from renewables to 60 percent. The country hit its emissions targets for 2020 five years earlier than anticipated, and looks set to preserve that momentum going forward.

Scotland’s transition to renewable energy has been made without any negative impact on the country’s finances – its accomplishments serve to demonstrate that there’s no longer a need to decide between ecological and economic considerations.

Part of its success can be attributed to a focus on making sure that improvements were implemented in a way that had a positive impact regionally, as well as across the whole country. For instance, the government set a target for the construction of 500-megawatts’ worth of locally-owned energy generation plants. This was attained well ahead of time, so the goal has now been increased to 1,000-megawatts’ worth of facilities.

Clean Sweep

Scotland isn’t the only place looking to end its reliance on fossil fuels. However, most other countries aren’t quite as ambitious in terms of timescale.

In June 2017, an entire province of China was able to run on 100 percent renewable energy for seven days straight. This is part of a wider effort for the company to clean up its act when it comes to the environment.

Renewable Energy Sources Of The Future [Infographic]
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In the US, California has pledged to make a complete transition to renewable energy by 2045, despite being the third-largest state producer of oil and gas. Similarly, the city of Atlanta expects to end its usage of fossil fuels by 2035.

These changes are taking place all over the world. Indeed, a recent study laid out a method for as many as 139 countries to become powered solely by wind, water, and solar energy by 2050.

Establishing the necessary infrastructure for this transition to take place will be no small feat. However, we’ve seen time and time again that the cost of holding off on these changes will be steep – as well as financial and broader ecological concerns, our current energy practices are prompting a loss of human life.

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