THE FUTURE STARTS HERE
Emerging technologies will affect our lives. What choices do we have as citizens to influence their development?
On June 28, 2016, Facebook completed the first successful test flight of Aquila — a solar-powered drone that aims to beam internet technology to remote parts of the world and eventually break the record for the longest unmanned aircraft flight. Big as that milestone was, Facebook envisages a fleet of Aquilas flying together at 60,000 feet, communicating with each via lasers and staying aloft for months at a time — something that’s never done before. It’s all part of the digital behemoth’s mission to connect the world and help more of the four billion people who aren’t online to access the myriad opportunities the internet provides.
Indeed, the world of tomorrow is shaped by the designs and technologies emerging today. From smart appliances to satellites, the exhibition The Future Starts Here, at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, brings together more than 100 objects (either newly released or in development) that point the way toward where society might be headed. Although some may seem straight out of the realm of science fiction, they’re all real, produced by research labs, universities, designers’ studios, governments and corporations.
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’s 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. And it starts here.
Guided by ethical and speculative questions, the exhibition examines the technological impact on notions of the self, the public, the planet and the afterlife — each evoking increasing scales of technological impact. How might these objects affect the way you live, learn and even love?
Humans 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 quotidian standards; we measure heart rates when we run and navigate cities by GPS when we drive. The distinction between human and technology blurs. Once a preserve of privacy, the home is now a broadcasting station from which we share our lives through social media.
How will technology affect the places we gather collectively to make decisions? In a world where people crowdfund everything from bicycles to bridges, or leak government secrets and generate new currencies, does democracy still work? The top-down strategies of an increasingly small number of companies and governments, versus the bottom-up tactics of a rising mass of people — which will thrive?
And then there’s the even bigger picture. 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 our behavior has unintentionally designed the Earth, can we use technology to reverse the effects and clean, repair or give back to the planet? Some are looking for solutions in the stars — designing satellites that scope asteroids for mining new geological resources and devising ways for us to inhabit Mars. But if Mars is the answer, what is the question? Can we still save our planet, or is it time to leave?
Which leaves us with man’s irreconcilable dilemma: mortality. 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 quite seriously by some futurists today. Against these efforts to preserve the self, institutions such as the Long Now Foundation and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault are working to preserve humanity through books, seeds and material culture. But what do we want to save for the future — the individual or the collective?
The future starts here. And our challenge has never looked greater — or more pressing.
A test flight for the Aquila, a solar-powered drone with the wingspan of a Boeing 747, developed by Facebook.
Tomas Saraceno’s Aerocene launches at White Sands Natural Park, 2015.
Betamodel, Bento Labs.
Superflex, Aura-powered bodysuits, Yves Behar. IMAGES: COURTESY OF THE ARTISTS; PINKSUMMER CONTEMPORARY ART, GENOA; TANYA BONAKDAR, NEW YORK; ANDERSON’S CONTEMPORARY, COPENHAGEN, ESTHER SCHIPPER, BERLIN (AEROCENE); © BENTO LABS (BETAMODEL); © FACEBOOK; COURTESY OF SUPERFLEX; © ALE CO LTD (SHOOTING STARTS PROJECT)
Shooting Stars project, Ale Co Ltd, 2016.