It is William Gibson, the American-Canadian writer, who is attributed with saying “The future is here”, to which he added “it’s just not very evenly distributed.” That could be the starting point of ‘The Future Starts Here” at the Victoria and Albert Museum which, while showing a variety of technologies and designs which already exist, asks the question about what they mean for our future world as they are become more commonplace.
DNA software by which security forces can reconstruct your face and identify you as a criminal before you know it yourself, a bathroom mirror that can sense your mood as you shave in the morning, body-hugging clothes that can energise and provide additional muscle power to the elderly and encourage improved mobility or improve swimming performance, robots that can do everything in the home (except homework) and become your best friend, self-driving cars that also act as communication centres while you are driven, drones that can reach difficult places by day and night to aid rescue searches, satellites that are becoming smaller and smaller, 3D printing of artificial limbs and of new settlements on Mars, prosthetic arms that can be as good if not better than human ones – these are just a few of the inventions on show.
On the architectural front the focus is on coming together of communities (or not) including the new People’s Parliament being built in Derik in Syria, the inward-facing Google HQ Campus in California and the Collective co-living space in Acton, London, and a thoughtful designs of schools, public housing and public space, along with a three-faith house of worship in Kuehn Malvezzi. What stops different faiths worshipping in the same building?
Technology plays its part and Jalia Essaidi has a fascinating proposal to adapt trees as wifi antenna – perhaps this will take off in parts of the world that do not have wifi infrastructure? And, as we all know, good coffee is important everywhere, even in space, so here is the world’s first expresso machine designed to be used in space.
Why, when there are imaginative examples of technology such as Estonia’s digital residency card that enables non-Estonians to access on-line services, and brain scanning that can transfer information onto a USB stick, are we unable to solve the problem of digital records in the NHS or the thorny technological issues around Brexit and the avoidance of large queues at border control?
There are sinister undercurrents however flowing along with the use, misuse and manipulation of data and information. While technology can be used for good, it can also be used for bad, with social media manipulation through social bots, fake news and lies. Can we believe anything ever again or is our democracy under threat?
Perhaps it is appropriate that, at the end there is a questionnaire for visitors to assess which tribe they fall into in terms of technology. What however the exhibition lacks are those things that are not yet here – this would have been something challenging to end the exhibition with.
As a post-note however, technology itself seems to have its failures, so we should beware about too much reliance on it. The day after visiting the exhibition, the District Line on London Underground was closed between High Street Kensington and Edgware Road due to signal failure and the longest queues I have ever experienced were in evidence at a major supermarket opposite Liverpool Street Station because the chip and pin system for payment had failed, slowing everything up.