Dubai’s Expo 2021 highlights global diffusion of innovation!
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23. März 2020
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Dubai’s Expo 2021 highlights global diffusion of innovation!

October 27, 2021

The EXPO 2020 in Dubai brought global diffusion of innovation back to my attention – AI, Robotics, Gene Editing and even Space Tech and Hyperloop have become ubiquitous

Thomas J. Dittler

I highly recommend visiting the EXPO 2020 taking place from October 1st, 2021, to March 31, 2022, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). I spent 4 days there on two trips this October. My partner, my sister and my older son joined in. We all loved it. Not only were we charmed by the many smaller nation’s efforts to showcase their crown jewels and ambitions, but we were also impressed by the onslaught of state-of-the-art technology applications. Technological advances borne from scientific insights in Tel Aviv, San Jose, Boston, Munich, Moscow, Seoul, and Shenzhen are spreading rapidly throughout the world. Many nations now proud themselves of developing innovation hubs and strive to apply inventions from elsewhere to provide future economic opportunities for their citizens.

Be optimistic. We are heading towards the beautiful, the greater and the best. We are one of the readiest countries for the future.

Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (UAE Prime Minister)

The UAE pavilion stands out because of its vast size, architectural beauty, and emotionally impressive display of – sand. Lots of it. They brought sand dunes into the building to make you understand Bedouin lifestyle before the advent of modern times which came with independence in 1966, merely 56 years ago. Today, UAE’s economy is relying on logistics, trade, tourism and of course oil and gas (contributing circa 25% to GDP). In this text, I am sparing words on authoritarian regimes and human rights violations. UAE’s leadership laid out the centennial plan 2071 to make UAE the best country in the world. Among the four pillars is a future-oriented government – UAE’s e-government already today bundles services of 38 agencies to be accessed via mobile app for the 1.4 million Emiratis and 8+ million expatriates. I am happy to report that my portfolio company Atoelye has designed and realized this service. If you visit, please work from their innovation hub at the Ministry of Future at Emirates Towers, downtown Dubai (www.atoelye.io/en/dubai/). UAE isn’t only present with their national pavilion but with distinct pavilions for the future of flight by Emirates Airlines, for the future of smart logistics by DP World, UAE’s maritime logistics hub, and more. You get the feeling they really mean to shape the future to their needs.

Before hitting the big names, we strolled through the pavilions of (in no specific order) Bangladesh, Gabon, Papua New Guinea, Bolivia, Israel, Palestine, Mauretania, Finland, Slovenia, Iceland, Azerbeidzjan, Hungary, Quatar, Kuwait, Bootswana, Estonia, Costa Rica, Chile, Czech Republic, Oman, Tansania, Thailand, Algeria, and Cook Islands. These are only 22 out of more than 150. A world at your fingertips. Always very forthcoming hosts, eager to explain the particularities of their respective national cultures. Always something to discover: be it Bolivia’s concept of “bon vivir”, Czech Republic’s 3D printing pioneer Josef Prusa or Gabon’s incredible forest coverage of 88% of land area and their strategies how to protect it. I promise, you will be enriched regardless of which countries you visit. The Expo does a good job exhibiting the soul of each individual nation and at the same time providing an overview over the tremendously colorful diversity of our world. If you wish to indulge, most nations’ pavilions feature a shop and a restaurant. The coffee was best at the Italian (illy espresso), the food at the Chilean (Empanadas, Dulce de Leche, Cabernet Sauvignon) and the souvenirs at the Omani (Incense and Perfume), the beer at the Czech pavilion.

Now big names. Expo 2020 is organized in three area, three leaves of a giant flower. Sustainability, Mobility and Opportunity. New Zealand is known for radical new thinking and executing on it. They are my absolute favorite. Central theme is the elevation of the Whanganui River to legal personhood status ensuring the river’s health and wellbeing. WOW. The Tiaki Restaurant rounds up the experience with contemporary NZ cuisine.

South Korea is big in robotics. Japan as well. China is big in artificial intelligence (and space tech). Germany is big in green sciences & e-mobility (and space tech). USA is big in entrepreneurship and their pavilion features a Space X rocket and a Tesla Model X. India is big in precision farming (and space tech). Spain is big in marine sciences and features a hyperloop project. Brazil is big in medical sciences (and in space tech).

Russia was among the last on our list and it turned out, not the least interesting. Quite the opposite. Most impressive. A monothematic display of the human brain in all its aspects and all the potential it provides. The show illustrates the mind-boggling complexity of the human brain with 100+ billion nerve cells and even more connections between them. Consciousness, Empathy, Emotions, Learning, Creativity, Social Connectivity, and other concepts are explored in a 360 degree walk-around through multi-media displays and interactive consoles. I was introduced to Russian breakthrough scientists such as Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921) on cooperation as a factor for evolution or Ivan Sechenov (1829-1905) one of the founders of neuroscience. My son, a chemistry student living in a commune with 4 Russian and Ukrainian students felt especially intellectually enriched when we left the Russian pavilion. Of course, there was also some space tech and AI at display.

Our key take-a-ways:

  1. All the technologies that make the Gartner hype cycle chart of 2021 such as robotics, AI/machine learning, gene editing, electro-chemistry, sensor data fusion, satellite networks, blockchain/cryptocurrencies, quantum computing and their applications in smart cities, smart logistics, smart agriculture, smart mobility, e-Government, e-health, e-commerce, e-security and e-finance have diffused throughout the world. 
  2. We understand that Innovation equals deep scientific & engineering insights (genius) plus the mindset to explore economically viable applications at scale (entrepreneurship). Genius and talent for entrepreneurship seems to be evenly distributed throughout the world. If a country doesn’t provide the right framework conditions, the creative class (genius and entrepreneurial talent) just moves elsewhere.
  3. Grasping the opportunities and shaping the future requires an open mind and ambition. It requires a culture which embraces the future and in which people are “tap-dancing” to work. I got the good feeling lots of people around the globe are just doing that. We experience a massive shift in science & technology creating gigantic opportunities to solve problems. After an Expo 2020 grand tour, you get the feeling that circular economies, climate & biodiversity protection, sustainable mobility and socially connected communities are within reach.