The city of Dubai has inaugurated Expo 2020 — the first expo to be hosted in the Middle East. Since its inception at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London, in 1851, the world expo has traveled far and wide to showcase technological progress and the feats of mankind. Millions of visitors have been enthralled by the experiences offered during world expos.
Perhaps most importantly, expos have been pivotal in identifying and evolving the key public policy issues facing our world. Its traveling platform provides a forum for steering discussions, gathering the brightest minds to showcase their craftsmanship and ingenuity, fostering the exchange of ideas, and launching transformative innovations. Needless to say, it is a fantastic opportunity for innovators to have access to a sizable audience with a keen interest in funding, producing and disseminating their discoveries.
History is testament to the numerous impressive achievements and innovations unveiled during world expos. Examples of innovations launched for the first time during world expos include the first analytical computer in 1862, the telephone in 1876, the X-ray machine in 1901, air conditioning and TV broadcasting in 1939, the mobile phone in 1970, touch-screen phones in 1982, and the clean-energy car in 2000.
Alongside these technological advances, expos have also produced a number of remarkable architectural highlights, starting with the gorgeous glass-and-iron exhibition hall known as the Crystal Palace, which debuted at the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London. A notable expo legacy is Philadelphia’s Memorial Hall, built in 1876 to house an art museum during the Centennial Exposition. The Eiffel Tower was a tribute to engineering and scientific achievements when it was built in 1889 to mark Paris’s hosting of the World’s Fair. It was the tallest structure in the world at the time. And it was at the 1893 World’s Fair that the world’s first Ferris wheel was unveiled in Chicago, named after its designer George Washington Gale Ferris Jr., who was a structural engineer.
Over the years, many expos have adopted central themes for their exhibitions, narrowing the focus on the relevant issues of the day and inviting leading innovators to share their solutions. For example, Vancouver’s 1986 expo focused on transportation and communication. Many ground-breaking technologies in the transport sector were showcased across various country pavilions, such as Japan’s High-Speed Surface Transport system, which used electromagnetic levitation, Switzerland’s Aerobus Overhead Transit and the Von Roll Habegger monorail, and Germany’s TAG Tramway. Other discussions included mobility solutions for the elderly and people with special needs, and alternative power systems for transportation.
The Dubai 2020 expo revolves around three central themes: Mobility, sustainability and opportunity. The key issue is how to leverage each country’s unique strengths to address pressing and emerging global challenges. Each participating country will have its own dedicated pavilion — the first time this has happened in the history of world expos. This will provide a unique opportunity for countries to share their culture, successful historical contributions, and novel innovations. It is noteworthy to remark on the architectural beauty of many of the pavilions, which allude to many Middle Eastern influences while also embracing modern engineering feats.
The impressiveness of the expo program is truly remarkable and could be a turning point for advancing the region’s agenda in a number of critical areas. Moreover, the region’s countries now have a valuable network of innovators who can use their world-class knowledge and solutions locally. For example, the Australian pavilion is set to share its innovations in the fields of medical technology and digital health, agricultural and food technology, fintech, and technology used in education. Another example is Canada’s pavilion, which aims to share world-class practices in artificial intelligence, robotics, education, digitization, telemedicine, clean technology, agriculture, health sciences, and aerospace. Estonia’s two-decade transformation into a digital society will be shared in its pavilion. South Korea’s impressive success story, with its high-end mobility infrastructure, is featured at its pavilion.
Equally impressive is the program offered by a number of Arab countries. Saudi Arabia is showcasing a number of outstanding giga-projects that are in progress and are advancing the country’s engineering, technology, conservation, and sustainability blueprints. Moreover, its pavilion has already earned three Guinness World Records for the largest interactive lighting floor, with about 8,000 LEDs, the longest interactive water feature at more than 32 meters, and the largest LED interactive digital mirror screen at 1,302.5 square meters.
Expos are distinctive in their ability to educate and engage the public about the policy issues facing their societies and the global community. The various pavilions are open to all, unlike industry trade shows, where entry is limited to the relevant professionals. This unique opportunity enables governments to gauge public opinion on novel ideas and solutions to various challenges. Engaging the student community can also spark long-term interests in particular careers and inspire ambitions to discover sustainable solutions. Furthermore, the breadth of cultural programs on offer advances the expo’s agenda of emphasizing the value of interdependence and connections between countries.
This year’s expo will make a lasting contribution to the region, debuting transformative technologies, ambitious visions and human ingenuity. Its spirit of promoting common values and convening for the progress of all mankind will surely make it an unforgettable experience.
• Sara Al-Mulla is an Emirati civil servant with an interest in human development policy and children’s literature. She can be contacted at www.amorelicious.com.
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