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The newly-appointed Federal Minister for Planning Development & Specia...


Ahsan Iqbal reviews progress of National Centers of emerging technologies at NUST

Dated : 13 March 2024

The newly-appointed Federal Minister for Planning Development & Special Initiatives Professor Ahsan Iqbal on Wednesday visited at the National Center of Artificial Intelligence of National University of Science and Technology (NUST) to review the progress of the NCAI and other national centers focused on robotics, cybersecurity, big data, and cloud computing established by the minister.
During his visit, the Minister was given a comprehensive briefing on the progress achieved by NCAI and the other national centers. The Minister emphasized that with the right guidance from HEC, these centers can uplift the nation’s economy through product commercialization and digital exports for economic growth. “Technology is the backbone of economies globally and countries have started investing heavily in AI for their national transformation, remarked the Minister.
The Minister's visit emphasizes not only a strategic commitment to advancing the national centers of technology but also underscores his eagerness for swift progress, emphasizing the crucial role of these institutions in shaping Pakistan's technological and economic future.
Professor Dr. Yasar Ayaz, Chairman of NCAI, provided an overview of the National Center of Emerging Technologies and focused on NCAI's pivotal role in shaping the nation's technological landscape. The economic activity through research and industry projects it generated, products developed, and deployed across various sectors, including safe cities, crime mitigation, agriculture, climate, education, judiciary and disaster management were highlighted.
The Minister asked NCAI to launch 2-3 days of AI training for federal secretaries and senior public servants so that they understand how AI can transform their domains and bring about the right changes through AI integration. Since AI plays a significant role in good governance and bringing the right changes is the only way to the future for economic growth and a knowledge-based economy, he added.
Additionally, he emphasized NCAI to reconvene the Task Force meeting and include AI experts from corporate sectors, both international and Pakistani AI top talent. This will maximize their input and allow for learning from them, enabling the initiation of the roadmap as soon as possible. Professor Iqbal appreciated the multifarious achievements of the centers and urged them to forge sustainability. Subsequently, the minister was briefed that NCAI, in 2019, proposed mechanisms for sustainability in the form of two policies - one on sustainability and one on spin-off policies. Both policies carried mechanisms for fund management to make it easier to sustain the efforts if the policies were approved. However, the policies were still pending approval with HEC. HEC has come up with the idea of having an F&P committee to sustain the labs and the center.
Recognizing the critical need for sustainability, the Minister emphasized to HEC the importance of revisiting the existing decisions made by the National Steering Committee members and policies proposed by NCAI. He directed HEC to address these issues on an expeditious basis and come up with an operational plan focusing on commercializing their tech products, leveraging support, and enabling them to thrive by connecting them with the industry and fostering co-creation of knowledge for all the national centers. Furthermore, he urged HEC to engage in discussions with him directly. Highlighting HEC's central role as the guiding force behind the collaborative approach with all centers, the Minister emphasized the crucial influence HEC holds in ensuring the success of these initiatives.

The Minister reiterated the importance of collaboration between academia and industry for the commercialization of tech products, curriculum reforms, including the national centers for accreditation and standardization, and the potential of AI to drive advancements across various sectors in Pakistan. He applauded NCAI for its dedication to advancing AI in Pakistan. Emphasizing sustainability through endowment, the Minister referenced a mechanism proposed during the last day of his previous tenure. He urged the HEC to expedite the release of promised funds, address delays, and reinforce the crucial role of technology in Pakistan's economic growth.
The Planning Minister instructed HEC to expedite the release of the long-delayed promised funds of Rs 500 million and the overdue revision of salaries for HR in FY 2023-2024. He demanded prompt submission of the revised PC-1s of the national centers in accordance with CDWP decisions. Director General P&D HEC assured the Minister of fast progress and submission of the pending documents within one week. The Minister specifically urged Chief S&T MoPD&SI to diligently follow up and swiftly resolve this pressing issue.
Earlier, NCAI also shared updates on its Memorandum of Agreement with the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA), an international-level collaboration agreement approved by the federal cabinet and in the process of signing. Other collaborative initiatives/projects with government and non-government bodies, hospitals, malls, startups were discussed. The Minister was briefed about NCAI’s latest training modules for leaders and professionals, launched on suggestion of Prof Ahsan Iqbal during his maiden visit to NCAI during his last tenure right after the oath-taking ceremony.
During the briefing presentation was also given on the National Center of Robotics and Automation (NCRA) and showcased its achievements in agriculture, healthcare collaborations, and advanced robotics for industries. The National Center of Cyber Security (NCCS) highlighted the launch of over 50 products, international partnerships with Saudi Arabia, and its role in improving Pakistan's global ranking. The center's initiatives include cyber audits for 30+ national bodies, launching degree programs, and contributing to the security evaluation of cyber and non-cyber products under the Common Criteria Lab framework.