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Careem co-founder Mudassir talks AI and sustainability on GITEX sideline

  • Autonomous driving will be ‘last frontier’ of AI disruption for us, says ride-hailing company's CEO Mudassir Sheikha
Published October 18, 2023

DUBAI: Autonomous driving will be “the last frontier of disruption that AI will bring to some of the things that we are doing”, said Careem CEO and co-founder Mudassir Sheikha.

Sheikha was speaking on the sidelines of GITEX Global 2023 at the SuperBridge Summit Dubai during a talk titled ‘Envisioning the Future of Sustainable Tourism and Mobility in the Post-Covid Era’. The summit took place at Dubai’s Museum of the Future on Monday.

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Speaking in detail about AI, he said the term has become a buzzword, and it’s almost as if “if you don’t do AI, then you’re doing something wrong these days”.

But Careem – primarily seen as a ride-hailing app – has been doing AI for a while in some shape or form, he noted.

Since around 2017, it has been looking at how AI can be used to do things more efficiently and in fact, “a lot of AI is already built into your basic Careem experiences.”

“Before a booking even comes, we can predict where the next booking will come from. The cars are positioned in the right places, the ETAs that you get, the pricing that you get, is all in some shape or form powered by AI,” said Sheikha.

Now that Careem is pivoting from being just a ride hailing app to becoming an “everything” app, “one criticism I often get from people is ‘I don’t know what services you have and it takes one or two more clicks to get to those services’.”

According to him, in today’s day and age, Careem should be able to predict what services a user would want, “based on who you are, based on where you’re opening the app, and make it super easy to service that upfront.”

“Platforms like Careem that have multiple services can not only do those things way easier, but can also start piecing things together that belong together.”

Sheikha was joined on stage by Jane Sun, CEO Group, which provides travel services.

She said her company has integrated AI in a way that if a user’s “plane is delayed, in China, for example, we will automatically push a high speed railway ticket for them.”

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“We’ll tell the driver that instead of picking them up at the airport, now the driver needs to go to the high speed railway station to pick them up and we’ll tell the hotel to hold on to their rooms for late check in.

“As long as it’s within our ecosystem, we can take care of everything for you.”

In the future, she hopes that services outside’s ecosystem will also be integrated seamlessly for the ultimate travel experience.

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‘Sustainability needs economic incentives’

When asked how Careem is embracing sustainability, Sheikha said any efforts towards that goal need to be “married to economic incentives somehow”.

“If we are able to charge a higher price from customers for hybrid cars and we start paying hybrid cars more than normal cars, there is an economic incentive that’s going to drive the adoption of that option.

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“Similarly, in our delivery business, if we are able to give preferential access or preferential utilisation to fleets that are more sustainable, they start making more money. That’s what I believe we can do as an organisation.”

He added that “if you don’t have economic incentives aligned across the value chain, it starts creating a burden on the value chain”.

“You may be trying to do something sustainable, but you’re not going to win in the market. That might defeat the whole purpose for us.”

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Careem has already made a shift to hybrid cars, he said, noting that about 50% of trips in Dubai are done on hybrid cars, which only consume 30% of energy compared to internal combustion.

Another is Careem bikes. “For a lot of short trips, it makes sense for people to just use bikes which are a lot more sustainable. And the bikes are not just there for short trips, but they’re also encouraging the use of public transport.

“These bikes end up becoming the last mile from people exiting public transport and then taking those bikes home. You’ll also see a lot of Careem delivery bikes around Dubai now.”

Sheikha was speaking at the inaugural SuperBridge Summit that was held in partnership with GITEX, during which the audience also heard from H.E Helal Saeed Al Marri, Director General, Dubai’s Department of Economy and Tourism, and Dr Umar Saif, Pakistan’s caretaker IT minister, among other speakers.

The summit was part of the 43rd edition of GITEX that has been running since 1981. This year, GITEX GLOBAL is hosting nearly 6,000 exhibitors, including some 50 from Pakistan that made up the country’s ‘Tech destiNation’ pavilion, and 180,000 tech executives from 180 countries.

The event is slated to conclude on Friday, and is being held across two venues – the DWTC and Dubai Harbour.

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