A beach of white sand entirely made by cargo-bulldozers, some shells, all planted in the big blue of the Persian Gulf. "The World", the latest delusion of UAE showcasing an archipelago of 300 new islands off Dubai, shaped like a world map, where, in some villas, it will be possible to sleep in a glass room under the sea … No one knows when these pharaonic works will end. No matter, for now, The World draws attention to this young Middle Eastern state, born in 1971, at the same time as the first e-mail. Since then, he wants to leave an imprint – even artificial – on the world … before rolling out the red carpet for the highly anticipated World Expo 2020 whose economic benefits are expected to amount to $ 30 billion, for 20 to 25 million visitors.

This certain taste for the waking dream also concerns the blockchain ; a very technology hype, profoundly disruptive, and which allows the Emirate to build castles in Spain, waiting for the palaces on the island "Europe" of The World. Three years ago, he announced his latest craze: to become the first city in the world to operate 100% by means of the blockchain by 2020. Half of the administrative procedures will also have to be processed and recorded via blockchain technology by 2021. A crazy bet for a country run by a hereditary monarchy. Because in the heart of blockchain is the promise of a more horizontal, decentralized society, freed from its intermediaries, where each individual is responsible and controls his interactions.

In short, a new social contract made technically possible by a large register of available data, an open peer-to-peer network, a consensus algorithm (validation by "proof of work") and so-called "asymmetric" cryptography. . But for purists, only the blockchain the bitcoin cryptocurrency, allows for a high degree of decentralization, everyone can participate, unlike the more closed models of blockchains which have entrance fees. " That's why here in Dubai, nothing is really developed "Asserts a" crypto-anarchist "and resident of Dubai.

Experimentation at the highest summit of the state

" Dubai sees itself as the world capital of the blockchain ", says Richard Dib, the director of Development and Data Science Activation Smart Dubai, one of the many government entities involved in the Blockchain Strategy plan. " We work on more than twenty use cases: buy real estate, recharge electric vehicles, register a company, offer tourism 2.0 [un secteur en forte croissance qui a pesé 5 % du PIB en 2017, selon la direction du Trésor, ndlr], certify medical licenses, validate diplomas on the blockchain between universities … "Rolls out this former Telecom student Bretagne passed by Club Internet, Bouygues Telecom and SFR, in Paris. To leave France, this Arabic-speaking Lebanese has been convinced by attractive conditions.

Above all, the technological playground developed by the Prime Minister and Vice President of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, is limitless. From its sumptuous office, with sea view, to make a Googler blush [salarié de Google], Richard Dib also oversees the Dubai Data Initiative – linked to the blockchain which feeds on data – which must bring in the open data at full power in 2021. " Previously, an administrative procedure took three months. Now it's fourteen days. In one year, out of 2000 datasets listed for open public data, 291 have already been published, or about 14.5%. In comparison, in France, in just three years, barely 8% of local authorities were, in 2018, in accordance with the law of Axelle Lemaire, the former Secretary of State for Digital François Hollande, who has imposed the opening of the data, according to OpenDataFrance / Etalab.

Moreover, like France, Dubai has – almost – no oil, unlike its rich neighbor Abu Dhabi which holds 93% of the reserves of black gold. But she has ideas that she wants to experiment at any cost. For her, the startup nation is already outdated. At the dawn of the fourth industrial revolution, the world city with 3 million inhabitants almost all expatriates wants to become "The Experimental Nation". Through the exploitation of data, Dubai will be the happiest city in the world "Proudly announces Smart Dubai on its brochures, while the entity has planned to recruit 140 new officials experts in 2019. This happiness in Emirati version, with 90% of foreign-residents, is for example to arrive at the airport, forget the queues at customs because 'pre-approved' by a smart contract identification, pay bills (transport, electricity …) and the (rare) local taxes transparently and traceable on their destination … To, one day, vote directly laws?

A spo-platform state, nored by the giants of the data

Far more Westernized than neighboring Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates is not keen on major democratic debates. The stakes are primarily economic: " The Blockchain Strategy will save 11 billion dirhams (2.6 billion euros), do without recurring administrative documents, go to 100% dematerialized with the end of paper and delete 77 million working hours per year » in the public sector, we promise. To be sure of the returns on investment, a data expert was even placed in each of the entities to bring the experiment back up to the highest peak of the state. A Minister of Artificial Intelligence, Omar Al Olama, was also appointed in 2017. On Twitter, he is promoting the World Government Summit in mid-February, the annual summit that considers new forms of government. He will even present a "Best Minister Award", not through a sample of voters, but in partnership with the consulting firm PwC.

" We do not reinvent anything, we make partnerships », Confirms The gallery Dr. Marwan Al Zarouni, Director of the Blockchain Center, a former computer scientist who previously worked in cybersecurity at the Dubai Electronic Security Center. In trying to understand how the "Silk Road" – the black market Darknet born in 2011 and closed since the arrest of its American designer – worked, this Emirati nicknamed the "Mr. Blockchain of Dubai" in his kandura (traditional tunic) white was passionate about bitcoin, the star currency that is based on blockchain. Since then, he welcomes the press to the new center, based in one of the Emirates Tower, between a visit for Chinese representatives and a meeting with a startup to pamper. In fact, when you cross the gleaming shopping malls of this tower of the World Trade Center, one understands the importance of foreign settlements. Instead of the well-known restaurant brands, there are Pfizer, Siemens, showroom Visa, trendy Pepper robots from fintech, open spaces on the floors: Dubai has invented the concept of a commercial meeting center.

In the back shop, the government is actually targeting the global data market it wants to put a foot on. " By 2021, the economic impact of data will reach $ 2.8 billion a year (…) By opening 100% of its data in open data, Dubai must generate $ 6.6 billion in additional value ", Says the report" Dubai Data Economic Impact "by KPMG. An appetite confirmed by Richard Dib of Smart Dubai: " The Dubai Pulse platform has 25 petabytes of storage to be able to host more than 2,000 datasets. Also, it offers service suites such as PaaS [Platform as a Service], the IaaS [Infrastructure], the IoT-aaS [Internet des objets], etc. It is built under a PPP license [partenariat public-privé], mainly with our strategic partners, the telecom operators. In other words, by getting even closer to foreign companies that are already almost all benefiting from "zero taxes" (no tax on companies and revenues), Dubai wants to concretize the state-platform. The multinational ConsenSys, the architect of the blockchain Ethereum for companies, was even chosen as city ​​advisor official. With IBM, it's about using the blockchain with customs, the Dubai Customs, while the office of the cadastres and the departments of Naturalization and Residence already experiment it.

In the city's business districts, it's the Oracle, Microsoft, MasterCard, Google with the AstroLabs incubator, and even the French Sigfox unicorn, a pioneer in smart city. They are all here to help build ' the platform that will meet the needs of Dubai's multinational citizens Says Say Farook, councilor and director of the office of Sheikh bin Rashid in the book Blockchain Time Capsule, from the local American expert Damu Winston. French side, the national champions present also have a card to play in this "blockchain-data-IA-Land" [thecountryof[lepaysdela blockchain, of data and artificial intelligence]. The latest is with Orange Business Services, which has signed a partnership with Du Telecom Company, the local operator, in early 2019 to build the future connected neighborhood of Silicon Park. Cegid is testing its solutions in "The Mall", one of the world's largest shopping centers, and Thales is hosting engineers to prepare the transport for Expo 2020, Dassault Systèmes, among others.

The paradoxes of the city too smart

To occupy the field of com 'and attract talent, not a month in Dubai takes place without a conference Tech (salon Gitex, Future Technology Week …) Similarly, the contest startups, where we can win up to $ 20,000, are as common as a sports car on the Sheikh Zayed Road bordered by palaces. On the financing side, sovereign wealth funds such as the Mubadala Investment Company, with $ 125 billion under management, are feeding artificial intelligence projects. smart city, Dubai Future Accelerators, an MIT in Abu Dhabi … To draw these first lines of the state-platform, Dubai, smart city, is the perfect laboratory. Above all, it is an ideal stumbling block for this ancient pearl fishing port, which today, more than ever, loves all that glitters. The city should spend 4.4 billion euros of investment, and this, only for the deployment of IoT (the Internet of Things), according to local data from Business France. Huge investments that also ignore the paradoxes.

In the connected metropolis, we want " rationalize the use of natural resources ", When, at the same time, the giant fountains explode at the foot of the 828 meters of the Burj Khalifa tower for a daily show … In the background, Let it snow, let it snow, popularized by Dean Martin, sounds in the speakers, by 30 ° C during the holidays. Similarly, we think about regulation of traffic lights according to real-time traffic flows ", to build " 25% of buildings with 3D printers by 2030 "Says Business France … while returning the Arabian Sea to The World. Dubai also plans to reduce its CO2 emissions by 114 million tons, thanks to blockchain and its automated actions, the smart contracts, develop an intelligent vehicle management system of the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) … and build dozens of five stars on the 120 kilometers of coastline manufactured for the Palm Jumeirah, the artificial peninsula visible from space.

To go to the Emirate, one can, as an airline, take a close interest in blockchain, register travelers' passports online, sell a ticket with the said passport, check in via the website … and block a passenger initially because it is missing a few days before the end of the three months before the expiry date of the visa. On average, this asymmetry of information would concern one traveler per flight "From Paris, we slip, a little embarrassed, at the ticket office of the company. Except that these paradoxes of the "Tech-hub of the world" are beginning to weigh on its attractiveness: the towers considered too high (thirteen of them exceed the Eiffel Tower) and not functional do away with tenants and investors. More worryingly, in 2018, real estate prices fell by 11% in 2018, according to the Dubai Real Estate Report.

Finally, at the forefront of the contradictions is the real value of a technology of decentralization, entirely controlled by a state. " It's not important that the technology is decentralized, what counts is the service rendered to the end user, the citizen Says Richard Dib of Smart Dubai. " The blockchain is not necessarily the miracle solution. It applies when multiple partners need transparency. Otherwise the current system is enough He concedes.

Welcome to the metropolis of the citizen-client

In fact, this is what it is: in Dubai, the citizen is above all a customer. Ultimately, it is an e-government that wants to manage the millions of daily interactions of its residents that will have been awarded " a unique digital ID number for each user that links to their secure channel information and offers a personalized, effective, seamless experience ", Confirms Richard Dib. In the Emirate, where the DubaiNow mobile application has been used for four years to access 50 services (driving license, visa, health, transport) and 22 government entities, happiness is in the data.

To understand what makes the city happy, the coastal city has also deployed since 2015 its Happiness Index, three emojis of satisfaction (not happy, neutral, happy) to choose on a touch screen, in most public places, official websites, and transport. A program managed by the Ministry of Happiness and Well-being, at happy.ae. By the end of 2018, the program had communicated on 21 million data For a result of " 89% satisfaction ".

In this modern city where police robots are already working, everything must be " mixed by design ". Concretely, it is a financial district that mixes startups, government officials, a breathtaking Museum of the future, shaped like a vortex open to the world. Together, artificial intelligence and IoT must bring happiness without friction to the citizen, in its interactions, its mobility, its purchases … It was already possible with the currency e-dirham but Dubai wants to go even further. At the end of 2018, she announced a local cryptocurrency, EmCash, developed in partnership with a startup to make payments in businesses and administrations. In Abu Dhabi, for the most loyal, a bank indicates even having made a transaction on the blockchain " Shariah compliant ".

An oasis of happiness reserved for a tiny minority

Still, this oasis of happiness is lived by only a tiny part of the population of the Middle East. " Here we are aware of living in a bubble, with Yemen, Syria, Iran, Iraq or the Islamic Republic of Saudi Arabia around us "Says an Australian expatriate, an executive in the industry. Not to mention poor workers in India, Africa or Pakistan, for whom the authorities had to make concessions on their status and rights (such as a minimum wage of 190 euros per month, insurance). But conditions remain tough for those who must carry the 4.1% growth expected in 2019, according to IMF projections, thanks in particular to the Expo 2020 and public investment, against a GDP up 2.8% in 2018, according to Dubai Economic Report.

Also, "citizen-centric" does not necessarily rhyme with democracy. " On social networks, we do not necessarily say what we think of the government or the city ", Concede expatriates, also happy to live in a city" where the flight does not exist ". But, on the spot, it is assured: a techno-authoritarian drift is impossible. " There is no longer room for an official government that is abusing power. We want a reduced government and no leader Says Mr. Blockchain. A nuanced viewpoint by Vijay Tirathrai, general manager of the Techstars Dubai Accelerator, also housed at the Blockchain Center: " Everything is interconnected between countries. Documents, administrative procedures … This is not done at the national level. Someone has to take the lead. "

Become number one in the new e-governance of the world

But after Estonia [précurseur en matière de e-gov avec, dès le début des années 2000, une e-identité, des bases de données interconnectées des services de l’État] and a tour of Europe Marwan Al Zarouni and his associates do not have not convinced by what they saw ". " In the European Union, you have to remove the complexity. It's the one that promotes corruption He says. And convinced: " The UAE will take over because transparency is really part of our ethics, including in government, prophesy there. We have very little corruption and a culture of work. He always prefers to celebrate successes, like having received the prize for the best project Smart City in 2017 at the Smart City Expo in Barcelona.

We focus less on the weak points. In 2016, tech accounted for only 6% of UAE GDP according to the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority. Twelve hours behind San Francisco, the UAE has some tech champions but only two unicorns, one of which is already swallowed. In 2017, Amazon offered Souq.com, the number one e-trader in the Middle East and North Africa. Conquered by Uber, the local actor Careem tries, he, to stay in the lap of Dubai with a joint venture with the Roads and Transport Authority.

But nothing can stop Dubai in its quest: to become number one in the new global e-governance. Exit to impose restrictions on foreign services, such as WhatsApp (Facebook), Skype (Microsoft) whose VoIP feature (Voice over Internet Protocol) is blocked in the UAE, to favor local actors. What to fear protectionism 3.0 of the state-platform and its interconnected city? " We do not impose technology on anyone: companies will be free to use the blockchain from the government, or not. The place to take is not to be "game changer", but "efficiency enhancer". We just want to have the positive regulator role that makes life easier for humans ", Replies Richard Dib of Smart Dubai.

Ultimately, the goal is to propose a global e-governance and a platform made in Dubai, " at share with the cities of the world "For the transport, the mobility of the travelers, but also the security … This new digital age will be written all the better with the Dubai Font, a typography specially created for the Emirate by Microsoft in 2017 and available for all the users of the Office suite. Just a font in the new world march.

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