DUBAI, 12 January 2022 – The potential for innovative technology to improve quality of life beyond borders and minimise environmental impact has yet to be realised, it was concluded at the Expo 2020 Dubai’s Travel & Connectivity Week session titled ‘Age of disruption: How tech innovation is shaping our new normal’ on Wednesday.
From better social services and employment opportunities to lower carbon emissions, enlightening exchanges between world leaders and technology experts highlighted how tech innovations can impact global society. The session, which forms part of Expo 2020 Dubai’s Travel & Connectivity Business Forum under the Programme for People and Planet, also saw the announcement of a new partnership between Smart Africa and the Estonia ICT Cluster, with the support of the Estonia Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to deliver a pilot on the coffee sub-sector data registry in order to empower farmers and monetise sustainable farming.
A ‘leapfrog’ philosophy is what helped Estonia jump in classification from a low- to a high-income country in just over 30 years, becoming the only digitally-transformed nation globally, running its entire public sector online. Among its success stories is a digital identity created the day a baby is born, after which the Estonian government’s proactive service policy comes into play. Instead of citizens applying for access to a service or right, such as voting or universal child support at the time of eligibility, they are automatically granted access thanks to the digital identity.
Describing the nation’s digital journey, Her Excellency Kersti Kaljulaid, former President of Estonia said: “When we were in the development process of the Republic of Estonia, others told us we had to do what they did first and then catch up. We immediately realised that if you copy others, you’re never going to catch up. So we scanned the horizon and noticed digital technologies – and here we are, just 30 years later with Estonia’s minimum and average salary and having increased roughly 70-fold and 30-fold, respectively.”
Home to six out of 10 of the fastest-growing economies in the world, Africa’s youth population will make up 42 per cent of the world’s youth by 2030, presenting numerous opportunities for its population. Like Estonia, Lacina Koné, Director General and CEO, Smart Africa, is thinking big with aims to transform the continent into a single digital market by 2030. “Now more than ever, harnessing the demographic dividend and expanding opportunities to young people, to the benefit of all Africa, will require a coordinated effort. The continental youth population represents a powerful opportunity to accelerate economic growth and innovations, while other world regions face an ageing population… It has been forecasted that if managed correctly, this young population has the ability to create USD 500 billion per year for the next 30 [years] – equating to one-third of the GDP,” he said.
Collaboration is key in plans for a more prosperous future, highlighted Khalifa Al Shamsi, Group Chief Strategy & Governance Officer, Etisalat, Expo 2020’s Official Telecommunications Partner: “When it comes to talent and certain functions, you’re not limited by the people that reside in the same country, but can tap into the talent from across the world… and likewise children can join classes not only in their school, but in a global forum. This will accelerate learning and capability building, and all countries and markets will be at an equal footing to fast-track their insights. This will also enhance the cycle of development of solutions per market… and if we refer back to the Expo theme of ‘Connecting minds, Creating the future’, this is exactly what will accelerate the growth.”
Speakers emphasised that in the future of work, when machines will be able to execute most automated tasks, human thinking and creativity will be more valued. The ability of technology to allow humans to focus on other efforts is not a new concept, as the world saw when home appliances like the vacuum cleaner and washing machine enabled women to explore academic and professional pursuits.
Jessica Sun, Senior Vice President, Terminus Group, Expo 2020’s Official Robotics Partner, said: “If we can liberate women from housework in 20th century, then robots can finally free mankind for repetitive labour to focus on more creative and valuable tasks in 21st century.” Sun also shared how robots can mitigate environmental impact, citing the example of the zero-emission food delivery robots Terminus Group developed with Talabat, Expo’s Official Food Delivery Provider. The ‘Talabots’ travelled more than 5,700km to deliver food on the Expo 2020 site in the event’s first three months, avoiding more than 600kg of CO2 that would have otherwise been emitted if traditional delivery vehicles had been used instead.
Expo 2020 Dubai Official Automotive Partner Nissan has anything but traditional plans for the future. Like the UAE, Nissan aims to be carbon neutral by 2050, an ambition that will be supported by EV36Zero, its Electric Vehicle Hub that will be powered by renewable energy. Marco Fioravanti, Vice President, Product Planning, Nissan Automotive, Europe, said: “You may have understood that the automotive sector is very mechanical driven and conservative. That is not the case… electrified, shared, autonomous will ensure that we are smarter, safer, cleaner, and fully sustainable… and with disruption in mind, imagine how much time we spend in a car. Technology allows us to do things better in a shorter time. We won’t take out the pleasure of driving, but will offer back this time to do other activities, particularly for driving conditions that are not exciting like long, daily commutes.”
Responsible use of new technologies is critical. Heidi Solba, President and Head of the Global Network, Let’s Do It World highlighted that 900 million tonnes of digital waste are produced each year, including through the data, documents, and media that require energy to be stored. It is with this in mind that the Estonia Pavilion, launched the Expo 2020 Dubai Digital Cleanup Challenge, encouraging visitors to “keep the best and delete the rest” of photos and videos captured at Expo 2020 in order to reduce carbon footprint.