Back in February, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the World Government Summit (WGS) in Dubai along with eight other UWaterloo graduate students from the Faculty of Environment. Reflecting back, I do not know where to begin to explain the exhilarating and whirlwind of an experience! Trying to see all the keynote speakers of interest, running on few hours of sleep each night, supporting the UW delegates competing in the University Challenge (which I will elaborate further), and fighting jet leg, while trying to absorb the fascinating culture in Dubai proved to illustrate that there was never a dull moment. With that said, I will simply begin by sharing what essentially the WGS is for some background knowledge.
Artificial Intelligence, flying cars, brain pacemakers, and photographing dreams are some of the vibrant (some may say unrealistic) thoughts and projects that are common to hear in Dubai during the World Government Summit (WGS). The WGS is a global platform that is dedicated to shaping the future of the governments worldwide. Over 400 participants from 150 countries gather in the lavishing city of Dubai each year for the World Government Summit (WGS) for over the course of four days. The WGS attracts some of the brightest minds and some of the top profile people in the world such as Jim Kim (President of the World Bank), Tedros Ghebreyesus (Director General of WHO), or Jeffery Sachs (Whom I think we all know from MDP). With a flood of professionals, academics, and leaders from all over the world blasts of ideas created streams of dialogue in how we can shape the future globally. Exploring the future never seemed so futuristic until you are immersed in the city that started from pure desert to the luxury world-known city it is today – Dubai.
So, what did a team of nine students from UW do at the WGS filed with hundreds of the top world leaders, academic, and professionals from the world? Well, the end overall lesson was that we learned…. And we sure learned lots! But let me back track a bit to describe what we exactly we did at the WGS. Prior to hopping the 14-hour plane ride to Dubai six colleges of mine had to write a white paper and of which included a set of specific prerequisites. The team worked very hard in coming up with an innovative paper that focused on an augmented reality tool that could effectively equip governments and civilians to reduce flood risks, raise flood awareness and increase flood preparedness.
Previously, all invited Universities have submitted the white paper and then at the WGS there would be a pitch competition based on the submitted paper and then a final winner for the most innovative idea. However, this time was different. Once we had arrived the University Challenge team were to undergo a challenge that resemble the TV show The Apprentice. The University challenge team had 48 hours to create a 5-minute pitch to judges that answers the question: “How will the United Arab Emirates be the best country in the world by 2030?” After endless work and brainstorming the UW team did a fantastic job pitching their idea. From all the pitches the lesson that we learned was that there are no limits to possibilities or realities in Dubai and that technological innovation is always warmly embraced. MIT was one of those radical thinkers that proposed geoengineering to alter the weather conditions in Dubai and additionally, a proposed construction of canals to increase trade routes. Although, seeming highly unrealistic, the bold thoughts from MIT definitely worked with the theme of the WGS, which was to think innovatively and to think outside of the box.
In the end, I felt inspired and encouraged to think above and beyond. I also acknowledged the disruptive technology era that we are entering and the benefits and the struggles or consequences that may come with them. As technology continues to advance, I believe what needs to be questioned is “How can technology work alongside humanity for the greater good?” in order to ensure that humanity is always at the forefront of interest and that ultimately, no one gets left behind in the technological shifts. As an MDP student I believe it is important to acknowledge that as innovations such as self-driving cars and robots are proposed, we do not lose sight of those who do not even have their basic needs met. It is important to recognize the technological gap and ensure that it does not leave parts of the world benefiting greatly from technology while others are left in suffering. Therefore, I question, “How far will technology go and for whom will technology be for?