Step into Dubai’s Museum of the Future, with Rachel Lopez

May 06, 2022 06:55 PM IST

Holograms, 3D maps of an imagined world, an elevator that ‘lifts off’ and ‘returns to Earth’ — the museum, which opened in February, is more about the future of public-friendly exhibits than the future itself, Lopez says.

How to commemorate a future that hasn’t happened yet? Museum of the Future, which opened in February in Dubai, attempts it with cutting-edge discoveries from the present, and the region’s own ambitions for tomorrow.

At the Library of Life, DNA records of more than 2,400 plant and animal species are presented as 3D crystal etchings, a kind of magical, colour-changing archive of biodiversity. (Chetna Chakravarty for HT) PREMIUM
At the Library of Life, DNA records of more than 2,400 plant and animal species are presented as 3D crystal etchings, a kind of magical, colour-changing archive of biodiversity. (Chetna Chakravarty for HT)

In this vision of the future, prepare to be tracked. Tickets are sold in advance under time slots. Visitors must register when they book, register again when they enter, and check in yet again with an assigned smart bracelet. Prepare to ascend too. All journeys begin in a wide elevator that rides to the top of the 77-metre-high cavernous, column-less, doughnut-shaped museum building.

Visitors are travelling to the year 2071. The elevator’s walls and ceiling are fitted with video screens that simulate a ride into space. “Your task is to discover and explore and return with ideas to help the present,” says Aya, the museum’s virtual guide. Earth falls away, the sky gets dark, and we dock aboard the OSS Hope, an interactive exhibition that represents how humanity might survive on an orbital space station.

The coded bracelet activates holograms and 3D maps of the new world. Fictitious astronauts offer fictitious testimonials. You can scan your face and superimpose it on to a space-suited model to feel like a space pioneer yourself.

A level below, it feels more like Earth, though perhaps an idealised version. A sound-and-screen exhibit recreates a pristine rainforest, transplanting visitors into nature’s own interconnected world — rain nourishes roots, which nourish plants, which support insects, which pollinate other trees and so on.


A welcome addition to any future is Al Waha (The Oasis), a series of sensory exhibits geared to help visitors connect with themselves and their mental well-being. Tech tracks visitors here too, but only to create calming virtual waves as they walk across sand-like floors. This hall presents a more layered view of the future than the clunky futuristic cars, jet suits, robots and delivery drones in the Tomorrow Today hall.

Dubai’s vision of the future has none of the anxieties of the present. There are no food shortages, migrant crises, pandemics, Arab Springs or misinformation campaigns. The museum isn’t really showcasing the future so much as the future of public-friendly museum exhibits.

As with the future, plan well in advance. Tickets sell out fast. If you can, make time for the guest lectures. Thus far, Alex Kipman, Microsoft’s corporate vice-president for AI and Mixed Reality, has discussed the metaverse; Binance founder Changpeng Zhao has talked about NFTs and cryptocurrencies; and Oussama Khatib, who heads Stanford University’s Robotics Lab, has chatted about human-robot collaborations in deep-sea exploration. The exhibits are but empty thrills. This is where you could find out what the future will really be like.

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    Rachel Lopez is a a writer and editor with the Hindustan Times. She has worked with the Times Group, Time Out and Vogue and has a special interest in city history, culture, etymology and internet and society.

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