By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) Middle East Correspondent
Known more for its architectural feats and infrastructure genius, the UAE is charting new waters in Artificial Intelligence with the creation of the Arab worldâ€™s very first Arabic-speaking robot. Named after the famous 11th century Islamic scientist and philosopher Ibn Sina, or Avicenna in English, the robot appears extremely life like and bears quite a resemblance to his namesake while also speaking in classical Arabic. Ibn Sina wears traditional Arab clothes complete with a flowing gilded robe and headdress. A series of motors in his face help him to move just like his human counterparts.
The robot is the first humanoid robot that can carry on a conversation and articulate human gestures as well as facial expressions in the Middle East. Ibn Sina can also â€˜seeâ€™ and is programmed with software that helps him recognize objects, remember faces, understand dialogue and respond verbally. A team of students at the UAE University with the guidance of Assistant Professor of Computer Science, Nikolaos Mavridis, designed Ibn Sina. Hailing from Greece, Mavridis spearheaded the project alongside 12 international students, which also included several local UAE citizens.
Ibn Sina can fulfill a number of tasks including answering specific questions, connecting to the Internet and providing other information. According to Mavridis, Ibn Sina is destined to be cloned and will go into public service as a shopping mall information clerk. The prototype Ibn Sina already serves a full day at the help desk at the local Al Ain Mall where he also directs shoppers to stores carrying items that they are looking for. However, Mavridis estimates that it will take another six months and a team of five students to perfect Ibn Sina so that he is more useful and delivers a flawless performance.
Funding for the project was made by the ruler of the UAE himself with an investment of almost $200,000. Ibn Sina is also used for other projects in the university laboratory as students are more than eager to use him as an, albeit robotic, guinea pig.
A gentle buzz has slowly started forming around the worldâ€™s first Arabic robot with several companies reaching out to Mavridis and his team to learn more about Ibn Sina. In a recent interview Mavridis revealed his own hopes and dreams for the future of technology in the tiny Gulf kingdom, â€œGiven all the growth that is happening right here at this moment, itâ€™s important that apart from building the largest tower in the world and all of these beautiful buildings, to try to do something that has to do with scientific and intellectual achievements. For that reason we chose Ibn Sina as the character from which our robot was inspired in order to bring back his values to our students. He brings together a lot of traditions, ancient and more recent traditions.â€
Ibn Sina is also becoming an old hand at social networking. He has his very own Facebook account. Ibn Sina can ask someone new their name, look them up on Facebook and become friends with them online. And with over 115 friends on his profile page, Ibn Sina looks well on his way to becoming a social networking guru in no time at all. Bots and humans forming social connections online is just the tip of the iceberg in artificial intelligence, at least in the UAE. The UAE University plans to further develop its robotics department and laboratory. Recent research conducted by the Information Data Corporation projects that IT development and projects will grow by over 12% over the next five years in the UAE at an estimated cost of almost $2 billion dollars.