Smart Living

A vision of the future at the V&A

'The Future Starts Here' poses probing questions about our future and how technology will shape the societies of tomorrow

What does our future look like? How will technology, design and humanity come together? And what societal consequences will there be when they do? These are the questions asked by the V&A’s challenging exhibition The Future Starts Here, which brings together more than 100 objects and technology projects that tell the story of our possible near future, from artificial intelligence and smart household appliances, to internet culture and satellites.

Some of the projects on display are inspiring, some chilling. There’s Google Clip, a small camera you fasten to your chest that’s pegged as a post-smartphone gadget. It learns the faces of your friends, family and pets, and autonomously takes pictures throughout the day of key photographic moments, all stored on the device. Another is the lightweight plane designed by Facebook to spread internet access to the remotest corners of the globe. The only hitch? You have to have a Facebook account to use it. And then there’s a cryogenics project that asks what the 2,000 people who have so far been frozen at the point of death can expect when they are awoken in the future when death has been ‘cured’.

One of the co-creators of the exhibition is the V&A’s curator of contemporary architecture and urbanism, Rory Hyde. He says that the three years it took to bring The Future Starts Here to life have convinced him of one thing. ‘We think we can use today to predict tomorrow, but we can’t,’ he explains. ‘Take the driverless car, for example. We get obsessed with who it’s going to kill, and how it’s going to work, and what our relationship to it will be. The assumption is that everything’s done really fast. But what if those cars were slow and squishy so that no one would get hurt because they’d just bounce off?’

It’s this idea of future innovation and change that’s at the heart of the exhibition. As Hyde says: ‘I’m really optimistic about the future, because someone will always just go and invent something completely new.’

As well as showcasing the collection of high-tech projects in development or posited for future use, the exhibition also asks questions about humanity’s relationship with technology, and how it’s reshaping our existence.

It’s split into four scenarios: ‘Self’, ‘Public’, ‘Planet’ and ‘Afterlife’, each guided by an intriguing set of questions. For ‘Self’, the question is ‘what makes us human?’ ‘Public’ asks if democracy still works, and ‘Planet’ if we should treat our world as a design project. And the final section, ‘Afterlife’, queries what we want to preserve for the future – ourselves or the collective?

These questions are intended to address the existential threat the technological and digital revolution might pose to humans, and how it’s transforming our relationships with each other, ourselves and the world around us.

‘One of the questions we ask in the exhibition is: we’re all connected, but do we feel lonely?’ says Hyde. ‘We can speak to anyone anywhere in the world instantly, but has it improved our lives and our relationships? We’ve made some incredible achievements in recent years, but let’s look at it from the other side now. What have we gained and what have we lost?’

Until November 4, vam.ac.uk