First day of World Gov’t Summit lives up to big ticket expectations

From sessions on surviving stress to a night at the museum of the future, it was a roller-coaster ride for participants, and organizers

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From sessions on surviving stress to a night at the museum of the future, it was a roller-coaster ride for participants, and organizers, of the World Government Summit which opened for the public here on Monday.

The usual din and bustle almost seamlessly interspersed with insightful discussions and networking opportunities with the scores of policymakers, experts and students who made it to this annual event. At the end of the day, it was all about big ticket announcements, meaningful photo-ops and rubbing shoulders with the best in the industry.

“Technological transformations are coming in as a tsunami,” Professor Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, said, setting the tone early in the morning. He emphasized that the changes in technology have brought about the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution mandating governments to absorb these changes.

He has been talking about it extensively since the World Economic Forum’s annual meet at Davos earlier this year. A book by the same name - detailing the fusion of the physical, digital, and biological spheres – is available at the venue.

It was then the turn of Professor Jim al-Khalili to take to the stage. In the session “Forgotten Legacy of Arabic Science”, the Iraqi-born British professor of physics at the University of Surrey, spoke on the Golden Age of Islam and the era’s important contributions to science, mathematics, medicine, engineering, geography and the world. He highlighted the current scientific curiosity in the Arab world and discussed the need for greater openness to new ideas, creativity and exploration.

Today, with Arab countries spending less than half a percent of their GDP on R&D, al-Khalili expressed keenness for the Arab world to regain its previous role as leaders in scientific advancement and innovation. “The age of international language of science was Arabic. The pure ingenuity, curiosity and thirst for knowledge of these scholars is something the scientific world should aspire to achieve,” he said.

Al-Khalili also discussed the current progress of scientific advancements in the Arab world. With far fewer scientists per capita compared to the developed world, he stressed the importance of enhancing the Arabic contribution to science. He, however, expounded on the many leading and pioneering scientific institutions in the region, including KAUST in Saudi Arabia and SESAME in Jordan.

Mohammed Abdullah al-Gergawi, Minister of Cabinet Affairs and Chairman of the Organizing Committee of the Summit, said that the summit’s fourth edition had undergone major changes in its name, content, philosophy, method of sessions and the mechanisms of exchange of knowledge across different platforms. He explained that the most important change is its transformation from an annual event to an international institution simply because an annual event is just not enough to shape the future as it requires intense daily efforts.

“Today begin the proceedings of the summit, but it will not end after three days,” he said adding that they will continue to communicate, and the march of research and knowledge will continue to move forward.

“The meetings and exchange of experiences will continue throughout the year, because we always wanted to be a part of the future, influencing it and not getting influenced by it, while keeping abreast of the changes and not resistant to them,” Gergawi said.

A parallel session - Is Coding the Language of the Future? – elicited a lot of interest among the participants. Addressing the session, Jennifer Pahlka, founder and executive director of Code for America, said that being innovative was about ‘looking beyond what we currently do well, identifying the great ideas of tomorrow and putting them into practice.’

“More governments worldwide are now recognizing coding as a language that must be taught in schools. In this session, we explore all the possibilities, opportunities and lessons learned in teaching coding to school children,” she said. Pahlka recently served as the U.S. deputy chief technology officer in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, where she architected and helped start the United States Digital Service.

Technology took the center stage when Rod Beckstrom, cyber security expert and former president and CEO of Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), addressed the session “Are we Safe in a Digital World?” Beckstrom warned that anything networked can be hacked and with everything in our world today being networked, everything is vulnerable.

He highlighted the threat landscape that exists and how cyber-attacks can disable industrial and defense systems, with internet dependence serving as a potent catalyst to amplify the potential threat. Drawing an analogy, Beckstrom suggested that the ‘air gap’ maintained between nuclear facilities and external networks has been effectively compromised through the use of viruses that can be transmitted using ultrasonic sound waves which operate even in the absence of Wi-Fi or Bluetooth networks.

With such potential doomsday scenarios, participants of the summit would be hoping for more encouraging news on the following day.

The day drew to a close with @HHShkMohd making some important announcements via twitter. Some of them are as follows:

@HHShkMohd: We will establish a new independent entity to manage public schools

@HHShkMohd: #UAE public schools will enjoy a great level of power and independence

@HHShkMohd: The new entity concerned with the management of public schools will be run by a dedicated board

@HHShkMohd: The new entity concerned with the management of public schools will be run by a dedicated board

@HHShkMohd:We have extended the mandate of the Ministry of Education to supervise all levels from nurseries to higher education

@HHShkMohd: We have also established a higher council of education&human resources to lead a comprehensive change for the future generation

@HHShkMohd: We approved a restructure in the Ministry of Health & launched an independent entity to oversee & manage public hospitals #UAE