About The Future Starts Here exhibition

This exhibition displayed emerging technologies, the ways in which they will affect our lives in the near future, and what choices we have, as citizens, to influence their development.

★ ★ ★ ★ This trendspotting exhibition, winningly and inventively designed to resist minimalist, brightly lit clichés about how the future will appear, is full of stimulating, often exciting ideas. But it also raises difficult, fundamental questions about how society should evolve, and often strikes a cautionary note.


Mind-boggling, parameter-expanding display


The world of tomorrow is shaped by the designs and technologies emerging today. From smart appliances to satellites, this exhibition brings together more than 100 objects either newly released or in development that point towards where society might be headed. Although some may seem straight out of science fiction, they are all real, produced by research labs, universities, designers' studios, governments and corporations.

Guided by ethical and speculative questions, we invite you to step into four scenarios – self, public, planet and afterlife – each evoking increasing scales of technological impact. How might these objects affect the way you live, learn and even love?

The undeniable physical reality of these objects may give the impression that the future is already fixed. But new things contain unpredictable potentials and possibilities, often unanticipated even by their creators. It is up to us – as individuals, as citizens and even as a species – to determine what happens next. While the objects here suggest a certain future, it is not yet determined. The future we get is up to us. The future starts here.

1. Self
What makes us human? We can now design life itself. Our bodies, and even our internal biological systems, are becoming sites of design. Wearable technologies and personal trackers have become standard objects of our everyday. We measure our heart rate when we go jogging, and navigate cities with the help of GPS. As we extend our cognitive and biological capacities through machines, distinctions between what is human and what is technological blur. Once synonymous with privacy and reclusion, the home is now a broadcasting station from which we share our lives through social media. We are now all connected, but are we still lonely?

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

2. Public
Are cities still for everyone? This section explores the public realms of cities, politics and networks, the places where we come together to collectively make decisions. People get together to crowdfund everything from bicycles to bridges, or to leak governmental secrets and generate new currencies. In face of this, Does democracy still work? The future of public and civic spaces lies between two competing forces: the top-down strategies of an increasingly small number of companies and governments, and the bottom-up tactics of an increasingly large number of people. Which will thrive?

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

3. Planet
Should the planet be a design project? Human activity has altered our planet to the extent that some scientists have declared a new geological epoch, the 'Anthropocene', or 'age of humans'. Now that we know our behaviour has unintentionally designed the Earth, can we use technology to reverse the effects? Some designers are working on possible solutions to clean, repair or give back to the planet. Others are looking beyond the Earth for solutions in the stars – designing satellites that scope asteroids for mining new geological resources, and solutions for inhabiting Mars. But if Mars is the answer, what is the question? Can we still save our planet or shall we leave?

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

4. Afterlife
Who wants to live forever? Current advancements in biotechnology and artificial intelligence have the potential to redefine our conceptions of what life is. Reawakening after death or uploading one's mind onto a computer are ideas that may sound like science fiction but are taken seriously by some futurists today. Against these efforts to preserve the self, institutions such as the Long Now Foundation or the Svalbard Global Seed Vault are working to preserve humanity through books, seeds and material culture. What do we want to preserve for the future – the individual or the collective?

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Main image: Radical Love, DNA portrait of Chelsea Manning, Heather Dewey Hagborg, 2015. Courtesy of Heather Dewey-Hagborg and Fridman Gallery, New York City