When you think of testbed locations for artificial intelligence (AI), you might think of the US, Japan or China, but the UK also deserves a spot on that list.

A briefing note by McKinsey Global Institute highlights that AI could add an incremental 16 per cent in economic gains to global output by 2030. The gains could be as high as 22 per cent in the UK, as it is regarded as more ‘AI-ready’ compared to the global average. Indeed, the 2019 Government AI Readiness Index compiled by Oxford Insights and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) saw the UK come second only to Singapore.

UK pavilionHighlighting a drive for AI and space exploration, the UK’s pavilion for Expo 2020 Dubai will showcase innovations in culture, education, tourism and business.

“Every time the UK takes part in a World Expo, we try to be different,” says Laura Faulkner, UK commissioner general and project director for the UK pavilion. “We have a strong creative and cultural sector within the UK, so we start with an open mind when we put out the design brief and end up with never-before-seen, thought-provoking ideas.”

The UK’s Department for International Trade (DIT) has chosen branding agency Avantgarde and British designer Es Devlin’s design for a ‘Poem Pavilion’ to represent innovation at the expo. The UK’s theme for Expo 2020 is ‘Innovating for a Shared Future’.

Devlin’s design for the UK pavilion, which will be located in the Opportunity district, features a 20-metre-high structure consisting of rows of slats protruding outwards to form a conical shape. The facade of the structure will feature an LED display of poetry created through AI, with words contributed both by visitors to the expo and by a machine-learning system.

The design concept is inspired by one of the final projects of late English physicist Stephen Hawking, ‘Breakthrough Message’. The project saw Hawking and his colleagues launch a global competition in 2015, inviting people worldwide to consider what message the human race should communicate to alien civilisations in space.

“The pavilion is just one aspect of our participation,” says Faulkner. “We plan to pose a series of questions, framing our participation around these. We will be asking, in the future, what will we wear? What will we eat? How will we create? How will we travel? How will we learn? Through these questions and conversations with the youth, government and thought-leaders, we want to look at what the future looks like for the planet.”

Construction progress

Construction of the pavilion is being overseen by marketing firm Pico Group, with UK construction firm McLaren building the 3,417 square-metre, two-storey structure. Foundation works for the structure have been started, and Faulkner says that the UK pavilion is on track for delivery in May or June 2020. MEED Projects estimates the cost of construction to be $18m.

The building will feature cross-laminated timber on a concrete structure. Much of the pavilion will be manufactured and assembled off-site.

UK pavilionThe UK pavilion will not remain standing at the expo site following the conclusion of the event. Faulkner explains that a decommissioning strategy for the physical structure is being planned.

DIT has tasked UK-based independent environmental consultancy Resource Futures to lead a team to explore decommissioning possibilities.

In accordance with expo’s target for the site to be restored following the event and for each country pavilion to redeploy, recycle or return 75 per cent of its construction materials to the manufacturer, Resource Futures and collaborators will focus on ensuring that much of materials are diverted from landfill.

Lasting impressions

Promoting higher education is a key part of the dialogue at the UK pavilion, and pavilion founding partner De Montfort University (DMU) Leicester sees Expo 2020 as an opportunity to advance global discussion about innovation.

Simon Bradbury, pro vice-chancellor dean of the faculty of arts, design and humanities at DMU, says: “We see [this] involvement as an opportunity to offer our students an unparalleled experience, whether that is going to Dubai to experience the festival, having their work in the spotlight [in front of] an audience of millions, or getting a behind-the-scenes look at how such an event is run.

Speaking to the networking potential, he notes: “The expo will allow us to make connections across the world, to be at the forefront of innovation and enterprise.”

London-headquartered HSBC is the other founding partner of the pavilion. “We will be promoting the power of international connectivity at … Expo 2020,” says Abdulfattah Sharaf, group general manager, chief executive officer UAE and head of international for HSBC Bank Middle East.

The UK ultimately hopes to provoke insightful and forward-looking conversations at the expo.

“We are not coming to the expo with a bilateral intention to broadcast something about the UK. We are coming to the expo because the whole world is in one place. We want to engage in multilateral conversation and build lifelong partnerships,” says Faulkner.

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