Issue 6: Dubai's Next Unicorn

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Welcome to Backstory, a weekly newsletter crafted to turn global technology shifts into a three-minute read. This week we are thinking about recent acquisitions in Dubai’s startup space and what will come next. We have some leads. – Joseph Dana, Senior Editor


Dubai’s Next Unicorn

Uber’s surprise acquisition last month of Dubai-based ride-hailing platform Careem for more than $3bn highlighted the maturity of the UAE’s startup sector. Now investors are on the hunt for the next UAE unicorn. While it might be difficult to predict the future, there’s one area of technology that could provide a clue: payments.

Mobile money: There’s a quiet payments revolution taking place around the world. In emerging markets, thousands of new mobile money applications come to market every year. Apple is about to release its first credit card designed to be used on its mobile platform, Apple Pay. With more people than ever using smartphones, mobile money is fast, safe, and simply makes sense.  

WhyDubai?At the nexus point of global markets, Dubai is poised to distill all the trends in the payments ecosystem and create a truly remarkable product. Think about it: If you are an entrepreneur keen on building a payments solution that operates in emerging markets, Dubai is a natural place to set up shop. Not only can you see which platforms are working in upcoming markets but you also have a perfect Petri dish in Dubai to test different versions. Watch the payment space for evidence of Dubai’s next tech unicorn.


“Payments sound like the least attractive part of the digital puzzle, but in reality it’s business’ biggest pain point - and therefore investors’ biggest opportunity."

Mary Ames, Director of Strategy at Xische.


Promise and peril of AI in the arts: Will artificial intelligence (AI) change the way we create and engage with art? The short answer is yes. In the first of two pieces on the subject, we explore the effect AI will have on the very human endeavour of wrestling with ideas to create art. Ultimately, we conclude, AI’s relationship with art is positive insofar as it advances society’s artistic production.

Changing cultural institutions: The tragic fire at Notre Dame got us thinking. How does digital technology transform and preserve the museum experience? As custodians of culture, museums need to be equipped for the latest developments in the digital space. This will spur innovation and enable museums around the world to enter the present, engage with the future, and no longer be confined to the past - but at what cost?


Fighting distraction: Over the last year, there’s been a push to limit or at least acknowledge excessive screen time on phones and tablets, but it appears our move toward better digital hygiene has manufacturers worried. According to the New York Times, Apple removed or restricted at least 11 of the 17 most downloaded screen time and parental control apps on the market. Apple offers its own screen tracking software but something is off. Watch these developments closely.

Digital heritage: New research from the University of Oxford suggests that the number of dead people on Facebook will outpace the living within 50 years. This might sound like a silly aside but it actually poses a significant problem for Facebook and other social media platforms. It raises the question of digital heritage. According to experts, no one knows how society will deal with our collective online memory. Scary stuff.  


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