In a time when a lot of things are uncertain, it’s comforting to think of the ways we can create a better future. Once we get beyond the global crisis of the coronavirus pandemic, what might our lives and cities look like? How can we use this situation to make them more sustainable and prosperous for all?
Luckily, we’ve spent the last couple decades creating a virtual environment in which ideas can blossom and proliferate. After all, there’s no shortage of forward-thinking concepts that can help us move beyond polluting and exploitative industries — it’s just a matter of convincing the public they’re worth the investment. At the same time, we have to be careful not to introduce even bigger problems into the mix with our solutions.
A recent exhibition at Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum provides one example of how we could make that happen. “Future and the Arts: AI, Robotics, Cities, Life — How Humanity Will Live Tomorrow” is a collaborative project bringing together dozens of architects, designers, artists, scientists, and engineers to envision how technology will help us evolve as a species in the decades to come.
The museum’s online description for the project explains that “advances in technology over the past few years are now starting to have a significant impact on various aspects of our lives. It is said that not too far in the future, human beings will be entrusting many of their decisions to AI (artificial intelligence) which will then supersede human intelligence; the advent of ‘singularity’ will potentially usher in enormous changes to our society and lifestyles. Another development, that of blockchain technology, looks set to build new levels of trust and value into our social systems, while advances in biotechnology will have a major impact on food, medicine, and the environment.”
“It is also possible that one day, we humans will be able to extend our physical functions and enjoy longer lifespans. The effect of such changes may not be necessarily and universally positive, yet surely we need to at least acquire a vision of what life may look like in the next 20 to 30 years, and ponder the possibilities of that new world. Doing so will also spark fundamental questions about the nature of affluence and of being human, and what constitutes life.”
The exhibition showcases over 100 projects aiming to encourage us to contemplate “cities, environmental issues, human lifestyles, and the likely fate of human beings as well as human society — all in the imminent future, via cutting-edge developments in science and technology including AI, biotechnology, robotics, and AR (augmented reality), plus art, design, and architecture influenced by these.”
The projects are presented in five sections: “New Possibilities of Cities,” “Toward Neo-Metabolism Architecture,” “Lifestyle and Design Innovations,” “Human Augmentation and Its Ethical Issues,” and “Society and Humans in Transformation.”
Some of them will look familiar, like ecoLogicStudio’s “H.O.R.T.U.S. XL Astaxanthin.g,” which depicts an amorphous 3D-printed structure growing highly nutritious algae for food. Others explore the potential repercussions of increasing the use of artificial intelligence in our society and everyday lives, like Patrick Tresset’s “Human Study #1,” in which robots draw portraits of human subjects, leading us to ponder the definition and value of art as a unique form of human expression.
“Oceanix City” by the Bjarke Ingels Group envisions a city of floating artificial islands for a future in which the impacts of rising seas can no longer be avoided. “Internal Collection” by Amy Karle takes a lighter tone by looking at how technology will change fashion, enabling garments that are more intricate than ever.
What kind of impact will trends like robotic pets, lab-grown flesh, and increasingly realistic virtual reality have on our societies, our relationships to each other, and our general regard for nature and life? Is it possible that our current trajectory of wealth stratification will lead to literally stratified cities in which playgrounds for the rich are elevated into the sun, creating dystopian shadow cities beneath them, as seen in Aida Makoto’s “Neo Dejima”?
Unfortunately, the exhibition closed to the public on March 29th, but the projects can still be viewed online, and they’re certainly worth examining and considering while you’re staying at home.