A museum that looks forward, not back

The Museum of the Future, plans for which were recently unveiled in Dubai, seeks not only to educate, but to bring innovative prototypes to life

A museum’s original function is to archive and preserve; curating the most interesting objects, fossils or artworks from times past and giving them a new lease of life in front of a captive audience. Dubai’s recent unveiling of its plans for a ‘Museum of the Future’ turns all these ideas on their heads.  

The $136 million building, scheduled to be completed in 2017, will be an incubator for the freshest prototypes, ideas and real designs; a driver for innovation; and a global destination for inventors and entrepreneurs.

“The world is entering a new era of accelerated knowledge and great technological revolutions,” tweeted His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai. “We aim to lead in that era, not to follow and lag behind. The Museum of the Future is the first step of many to come, marking the beginning of great achievements.”

The museum aims to create a permanent centre that can engage the public in different conversations about what the future might actually look like, as well as welcome designers and technologists from around the world. The exhibits will change yearly, and there will be a strong educational and outreach component, featuring conferences, lectures and community groups.

One of its most original ideas is to pair up-and-coming designers with established brands in order to bring prototypes to life. An advisor to the project says that there will be an ‘entrepreneurial wing’ of the museum that exists to solely manage the products, from IP matters to commercialisation.

“There’s nowhere like this in the world right now,” said the advisor.

“The idea is that this becomes a place where – regardless of whether you’re a product manufacturer looking for a customer, a customer looking for a solution to your problem, a government, or a student – you can come to the museum and find a partner who can push your idea forward.”

Museum of the Future
Museum of the Future will engage people in conversations about what the future might look like

Though deeply infused with the UAE and its regional aesthetic, the museum will tackle some very universal challenges, including how to make new technologies work for humanity.

It will address these concerns across three broad themes: future education, future healthcare, and future cities. Future education will examine how what we learn and how we generate and communicate knowledge will advance the state of human understanding. The second, future healthcare, will take a look at how humans are increasing their wellbeing in the broadest sense. The third, around future cities, will cover off transport, energy and sustainability, as well as urbanism.

Of course, all these themes are irrelevant without tangible and touchable exhibits to accompany them, which is why interactivity is a key feature of the museum.

“We focus on what the experience is like for the person interacting with [the exhibit], so there’s always something to touch or something to interact with,” said the advisor.

They added that devices such as self-driving cars or artificially intelligent civil servants are intended to drive the conversation about the idea of improved government services or safer infrastructure forward, rather than being innovative for innovation’s sake.

“The whole point is to always try and take technology and extrapolate it towards social use – or take a social challenge and then solve it with future technology," concluded the advisor. "We’re not just saying, ‘here’s a cool tool!’ – we're painting the whole picture.”