The Museum of the Future Is Here ... in Dubai
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because you don’t have to wait for the future to imagine it.
By Nick Fouriezos
A mile-wide jellyfish, bioengineered to naturally desalinate water, creating a giant, living freshwater factory. A “city kit” using robots and biology to construct completely self-sufficient cities in just weeks. A self-driving car fleet that eliminates the need for parking garages, freeing up those spaces to become fully automated farms — that, with artificial intelligence, learn to predict and grow your cravings the way Amazon predicts your shopping choices.
These aren’t the imaginations of a Black Mirror episode, but a series of exhibits painting the future … in the United Arab Emirates, the Middle Eastern nation that’s existed for less than half a century. With a long-delayed ribbon-cutting expected sometime in 2021, the UAE has been working to create the Museum of the Future, a seven-floor ode to innovation, replete with an indoor 400-person theater and 100,000 square feet in exhibition space next to the Emirates Towers in Dubai.
Its goal? To turn the typical museum ethos on its head, focusing not on archiving the past, but on the excitement of what comes next. Not only is the museum meant to serve as an impressive tourist attraction, but it’s also expected to encourage business, tech and political leaders to build what now exists only in exhibits. As Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and vice president of the UAE, said when announcing the project in 2015: “The future belongs to those who can imagine it, design it and execute it.”
The torus-shaped museum will have stainless steel that looks straight out of a sci-fi film, inscribed with illuminated, glazed Arabic calligraphy.
For those who can’t wait until next year to visit, a series of immersive exhibits have already been presented at global events, including the World Government Summit this February, to drum up hype. Like the jellyfish and smart farms, which have Noah Raford, the chief operating officer of the Dubai Future Foundation (the government arm managing the museum), raving about the way future tech can help ease environmental concerns. Case in point: The UAE desalinates 80–85 percent of its water and imports about 80 percent of its food. Raford imagines the delicious future awaiting us if the AutoFarm model becomes a reality: “By the time you want a burrito six weeks from now, all the ingredients from that burrito will have [been] grown, gathered and then packaged together for you and delivered to your doorstep for you to eat.”
Of course, there are significant challenges when you try to predict the coming world. The physical museum itself is a Rubik’s Cube of epic proportions. The torus-shaped museum will have stainless steel that looks straight out of a sci-fi film, inscribed with illuminated, glazed Arabic calligraphy — the building design was so futuristic it won first place in Autodesk’s AEC Excellence Awards last year. Raford insists construction is on time, but early reports said the museum was planned to open in 2017.
Long-term, the bigger challenge for the Museum of the Future will be to actually stay ahead of the curve. For instance, the foundation created a video a few years ago, imagining driver’s licenses delivered directly to your doorstep by drones … now fairly obvious in a world where Google and Amazon have promising drone-delivery projects. In preparation, the Future Foundation has ramped up its team of designers, technologists and futurists, and is building partnerships with industry leaders to stay in the know.
Right now, the museum, like the actual future, is shrouded in mystery: “We’re not letting any secrets slip for what’s opening in 2019, because what we have is just bonkers,” Raford says. But if the sneak peeks are any measure, the museum won’t just be foreseeing the future — it will soon be creating it, in one of the most ancient regions of the world.
This story was updated in February 2021 to reflect the museum’s new expected opening date later in the year.