Innovation, human enhancement discussed at Dubai summit

Vision compiles some of the highlights from the World Government Summit in Dubai this week, including speeches from Barack Obama, and the heads of the World Bank and the OECD

A keynote speech from US President Barack Obama is only one of the highlights at the World Government Summit held in Dubai this week. In a recorded message, Obama praised the UAE’s leadership for being an example of government commitment to innovation.

Obama said the US and the UAE can learn from each other. “When government listens to its people, that is how we move forward… As more children get education, the country's economic growth is a forgone conclusion,” he said, commenting on the UAE’s achievements in education. 

His comments were followed by speeches from a number of high-level officials, including H.E. Stefan M. Selig, Under Secretary for International Trade at the US Department of Commerce; H.E. Jim Yong Kim, President of The World Bank Group; H.E. José Ángel Gurría, Secretary General of the OECD; and Joe Kaeser, CEO of Siemens.

In its fourth edition, the event has become a global gathering of policymakers and thought leaders from a wide range of international bodies and sectors. It seeks to shape the future of government worldwide, with a special focus on innovation and technology to solve universal challenges.

For his part, Selig said dialogue at the three-day summit would improve the work of government and bilateral institutions between the US and the UAE.

“I would like to express my country’s deep support for the UAE and its strategy of innovation,” said Selig. “The strategy represents a roadmap that will make the UAE more diversified… Our countries are already partners in advancing this strategy.”

The UAE is seeking to establish a knowledge economy that will help it diversify away from reliance on oil as the primary source of income. As part of this plan, the government is pushing innovation across different sectors and creating new ones - from renewable energy to aerospace.

“The UAE’s commitment to innovation makes it a perfect partner to the US,” said Selig. The two countries signed a memorandum of understanding to “deepen” cooperation on innovation. The agreement was signed between the UAE Ministry of the Economy and the US Department of Commerce to promote cooperation in innovation and entrepreneurship.

Previously, in the global economy that was driven by industrial manufacturing, government was judged by its ability to ensure certain gains to its citizens, said Selig. However, as the government of the future will be able to drive innovation, its role of government will be redefined, he added.

“The modern responsible government will be identified just as much, if not more, by how much it enables its citizens to achieve these gains and improve their lives,” he said. “Our countries can learn from each other and we can make our countries more responsible to their citizens. That’s why this summit is so important to the future.”

The World Bank’s President Jim Yong Kim gave an address on inclusive governance. The three critical elements to reducing poverty and boosting prosperity are “inclusive economic growth, investments in people’s health and education, and insuring against risks that can plunge the vulnerable into poverty, risks like unemployment, illness, climate change and pandemics,” said Kim.

“Shaping future governments so they deliver on these responsibilities is our shared responsibility and essential to achieving our twin goals of ending extreme poverty by 2030 and boosting shared prosperity.”

With the global economy slowing, due to weakening demand from China and plummeting commodity prices, and climate change wreaking havoc on billions of lives, “many parts of the world are becoming more fragile, making quality leadership and good governance ever more important,” said Kim.

He highlighted the instability and turmoil facing many parts of the Middle East and North Africa region, and went on to criticise the bureaucracies and poor governance exhibited by many of its governments. The answer, he stressed, lies in inclusive governance.

“For the Middle East and North Africa, for all regions in the world, the path to stability and prosperity is through inclusive governance – actions that foster individual opportunity through quality public services and an open and competitive business climate,” he said.

“First, governments must be transparent in their actions and fully engage with citizens. Second, governments must invest in their people to give them opportunity to reach their full potential. And third, governments must create business environments that encourage innovation, competition and private sector investment, which will, in turn, create jobs and increase economic growth,” he added.

He praised the steps Dubai has taken to enhance its education sector through better community engagement, leading to improved student achievement over the last five years.

Addressing Dubai’s ruler, he said: “Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, your invitation last week to the UAE’s universities – which you tweeted! – to identify a minister under age 25 to represent youth and ‘give them a voice and role in governing the nation’, is among the most inspiring gestures in governance of this still-new year.”

“If the rest of the region can commit to the kind of good governance that has built the modern and dynamic UAE, the prospects for peace and prosperity would greatly improve.” 

The Futurist and Senior Vice President of Strategic Planning at Salesforce, Peter Schwartz, gave a captivating presentation about his future outlook for the world. Among the trends he highlighted were human enhancement that would make us better human beings, genetic technology that would allow gene editing within a few years and help eliminate all diseases of humankind, and neural enhancement pills.

“The day will come when children take their pills before they take their exams, to make them smarter and more capable. We are moving towards neural enhancement,” he said.

The summit was also a platform for a number of key announcements, mainly the largest structural changes to the UAE’s federal government since the country’s creation. There are now fewer ministries, but more ministers, including one for happiness and tolerance. The country will also focus on programmes and policies for a future beyond oil, while the Ministry of Health has been renamed The Ministry of Health and Prevention.