The United Arab Emirates is investing more than $1 billion to make Dubai the world’s first city to run on blockchain technology. The Smart City initiative, led by Aisha bin Bishr, just took convenience to the next level by signing a deal with the British startup ObjectTech to make digital passports that combine blockchain identities with biometrics like facial recognition and eye scans. Dubai’s airport is one of the busiest in the world, so using a digital passport to cut the line will make international travel a whole lot faster. ObjectTech’s announcement said Dubai soon will have the world's first “gate-less border.”

Dubai's digital passports will connect to travelers’ physical passports. The Telegraph reported biometric tunnels will take 3D scans of people’s faces and use facial recognition software to verify identities without lines at passport control. The idea of a digital passport isn’t as invasive as it might sound at first. Thanks to blockchain technology, the travelers’ themselves will decide what information gets added to the digital passport and who can see it.

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"Not only will it make international travel quicker and safer, but it also gives people back control of their personal digital data," ObjectTech co-founder Paul Ferris told the Telegraph. And digital passports aren’t the only blockchain innovation Dubai is spearheading. The Smart City initiative stretches from local startup accelerators to high-tech transportation and medical records.

“UAE has a high appetite for innovation,” Indian fintech entrepreneur Sandeep Jhingran, co-founder of Remitr, told Forbes. Indian fintech startups are flocking to Dubai to take advantage of venture capital opportunities. “Dubai aims to be a hub, not just for the Middle East/North Africa region, but also for Southeast Asia and so many countries within a four- to six-hour proximity,” Rahilla Zafar, who directs Consensus Systems’ Middle East and North Africa programming, told the International Business Times.

Dubai has become a global financial hub in the past few years. That is at least partially thanks to the UAE's bullish integration of blockchain, the same technology that fuels bitcoin and Ethereum. The Harvard Business Review recently named Dubai the world’s top leader in blockchain adoption.

These digital passports will have a wider impact than the airport. Zafar told IBT the UAE plans to use blockchain and high-tech tools to create a “seamless experience” for tourists, Emirati citizens and expats alike. “Seamless in terms of your health care, education, buying a property and using technology to enable that,” she said. This could invigorate Dubai's tech industry by helping foreign-born experts conduct business in Dubai whenever they want. 

IndexMundi said Emiratis make up less than 20 percent of Dubai’s population. Although the majority of immigrants and tourists surveyed by InterNations said they enjoy the local culture, only 42 percent said they felt well integrated. Creating a globalized, digital passport will help make Emirati society more harmonious.

Zafar said unlike the United States and United Kingdom, Dubai is deliberately expanding its local tech industry by encouraging migration and diversity. "They’re creating a really welcoming environment,” Zafar explained. “The ease of diversity, in terms of bringing people with these types of diverse perspectives to come and scale an emerging technology, is so exciting.”

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