Happy New Year!

At the dawn of 2022, let us commit to making it a year of hope!

In doing so, I wanted to reflect back on my experience in late 2021, when I was lucky enough to visit the vast learning emporium that is Expo 2020 Dubai. Delayed for a year because of the pandemic, but nonetheless (in fact, arguably more) potent for this delay, the Expo site contains an astonishing array of pavilions, each dedicated to a different country of the world, as well as a wealth of activities, parades, roving robots, and other events. (It is still running, by the way, albeit with some Covid restrictions, until the end of March 2022, so do think about going … the website itself is worth a visit!)

Anyway, I can’t pretend that when I visited the UK pavilion, I thought it was the most impressive of the country pavilions – far from it; I did smile, though, when one of my companions for the day commented that it was utterly authentic, as British people love to feel disappointed with their own country! The more I have reflected on the premise behind the pavilion, however, the more it has grown on me, to the point where – in the spirit of positive hope at the start of a new year – I have embraced it, and appreciate its wider value to the world.

The concept embedded in the construction of the UK pavilion was inspired by one of the last projects in which the late Professor Stephen Hawking, was involved – ‘Breakthrough Message’. This project was part of the Breakthrough Initiatives launched in 2015 – “a suite of space science programs investigating the fundamental questions of life in the Universe: Are we alone? Are there habitable worlds in our galactic neighborhood? Can we make the great leap to the stars? And can we think and act together – as one world in the cosmos?”. ‘Breakthrough Message’ focuses within this collection of programmes on thinking about what messages we – the human race – would seek to communicate as a planet, should we ever encounter other civilisations in space, and the main activity at the UK pavilion was to create a massive poem constructed using the words we would choose to share with other inhabitants of the universe.

After walking up the slope to the top of the UK pavilion, I entered the main auditorium, and was faced by an enormous wall with a set of screens, each of which contained a word recently chosen by a visitor. Every visitor is asked to think of a word, enter it into a tablet, and then the AI behind the process (about which I would fascinated to learn more) creates a unique couplet which is then added to what will be, by the end of March 2022, the longest poem ever created by an artificial intelligence, using the input of humans.

My word was ‘together’ – a small but, I felt, meaningful, contribution to this global project, because I was reflecting on how the entire Expo is fundamentally about togetherness, harmony, and sustainability based on co-operation, collaboration … and hope for a positive, better, future. It was incredibly uplifting.

So … a hopeful message for the year, the decade and century ahead. And as a small point of practical action, let’s commit to choosing our words carefully with those around us, in public and in private. For you never know who might be listening …

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