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Dubai’s Museum of the Future continues to inspire

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Last month, the Museum of the Future opened its doors to the public. Located in the heart of Dubai, its permanent exhibition aims to inspire new generations of free-thinkers by engaging with some of the greatest challenges humankind presently faces.

The museum serves as a testbed for new technologies, societal interventions, and scientific innovations that promise to transform people’s lives all over the planet. Confronting challenges such as space exploration, climate change, and mental health requires education and inspiration. These are the critical priorities for the exhibition.

“One of the highest level aspirations of the museum is to turn passive visitors into participants,” creative director Brendan McGetrick told Al Arabiya English. “We wanted everyone to feel that they were a part of this future [and] that the environments they were encountering would only be made complete through their actions.”

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The core of the new museum’s exhibition comprises three immersive floors, presenting speculative scenarios taking place in the year 2071. The scale and detail of these spaces have more in common with a movie set than the typical rows of static display cases one might expect. Each one is filled with interactive elements designed to draw attendees into the experience.

Visitors begin their journey to the future with a simulated space elevator ride to the OSS Hope, a gigantic space station demonstrating what living and working in orbit could be like for future generations. Put through various operational tasks. They will ultimately determine their role in this exploration mission.

The fantastic experience is made more impressive by its adherence to natural science. Even the exhibit hall reflects this commitment, illuminating what would be necessary to build such massive structures in space.

A simulation of the Amazon demonstrates the flow of nutrients and energy through the ecosystem 1. (Photo: Robert McKelvey)
A simulation of the Amazon demonstrates the flow of nutrients and energy through the ecosystem 1. (Photo: Robert McKelvey)

“On the space floor, we worked with two people from NASA,” explained McGetrick. “One of the insights they provided was that, if we were to ever achieve something on the scale of a large space station, it would need to be constructed out of space material [because] you could never ship everything from Earth.

“We researched deeply into what that would mean in terms of how would that kind of construction would take place,” he continued. “There were already a number of projects underway to create settlements, either on the moon or on Mars, [using] 3D-printing based on generative design and other kinds of emerging technologies. We embraced that [and] incorporated that into the aesthetic.”

Next, the tour returns to Earth for the Heal Institute. This futuristic exhibit uses a digital recreation of an actual section of the Amazon rainforest, mapping the flows of nutrients and energy through the ecosystem. Guests are encouraged to identify environmental harms and then create genetically-engineered designer organisms, which are then introduced to the simulation to see how they fare.

The floor’s ‘DNA vault’ allows visitors to peruse thousands of individual species of plants and animals, etched in crystal and illuminated with brightly colored LED lights, creating an otherworldly sci-fi spectacle.

“I think many people – including us – who aren’t familiar with the complexities of synthetic biology imagine it’s like some kind of free for all [where] you can add genes, change it and create anything,” said McGetrick. “Although we were very speculative in terms of these kinds of purpose-built organisms that we proposed, they were all stress-tested in terms of scientific plausibility.

“This is a portrait of the incredible intricacy and choreography of the natural world, particularly something like the rainforest which has so many different species, large and small, living together, working together and ensuring each other’s existence,” he continued. “This is an important foundational statement for this floor because, ultimately, what you’re doing as a visitor is helping to repair or resurrect the rain forest.”

A damaged tree displayed in the Heal Institute. (Photo: Robert McKelvey)
A damaged tree displayed in the Heal Institute. (Photo: Robert McKelvey)

The third and final of the immersive floors, Al Waha, is also the most unique. Here, visitors have the opportunity to escape from technology and instead explore their senses, using a wide variety of novel, haptic and therapeutic experiences.

Some of these are individually focused, such as hyper-sensory touch stimulators for the hands to reset tired fingers. Others, meanwhile, are social, encouraging personal interactions and cooperation towards a shared goal.

“[This floor is] based on the assumption that our relationship to our devices will become even more invasive [and] impossible to avoid,” explained McGetrick. “In that context, a public health facility has been created [where] all of the different experiences you have here are designed to disconnect you from technology and reconnect you to your mind, body, and spirit.

“We have advisors who are studying this, in terms of the contemporary condition and the way that it’s happening, and then we pushed it out further,” he said. “If you were to have implants [and] have the technology fully integrated into your person, what would it mean to turn that off? What would that kind of digital disconnection actually be like?”

These snapshots of a future 50 years pending may seem distant for now, but the museum is already hard at work imagining new developments beyond those currently shown. Rather than remaining fixed and immutable, the Museum of the Future is committed to remaining a reflection of scientific and technological progress, constantly evolving and adapting.

“The 50 years as a strategic [because it coincides with] the 100th anniversary of the founding of the UAE,” McGetrick explained. “It also gave us a very healthy timeframe in which to speculate, with enough time that – if the right kinds of investments were made [and] if the right priorities were set – all of the things that we propose could happen. “We are making sure that we’re keeping our finger on the pulse and staying aware of things that are happening,” he added.

“Even within five to 10 years, things could evolve in such a way that new possibilities emerge. If that’s the case, I think it’s not that much of a struggle to incorporate new elements [or] a new outline. It’s a display in real-time of things that are emerging.”

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