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FutureFest: Defying the dictatorship of no alternatives

Like so many others I had a great time at FutureFest last weekend – with over 4,000 people, 130 speakers, and plenty of installations, experiences, arguments and inspirations. We had insect-infused ice creams, futuristic cocktails, dancing drones, footballers showing off their skills immersed in ‘collective reality’ and cybathlon equipment. We had pure art and pure politics but mainly hybrids on the boundaries of everything.

The weekend began with me having a digital implant inserted into my hand – a bit more painful than I would have liked, but appropriate to the theme of ever greater interpenetration of humans and technologies. Things got better. Some of the highlights for me were people I hadn’t seen in action before – Es Devlin, DJ Spooky, Luca Turin and Soh Yeong Roh – all truly mind blowing. There were brilliant extended meditations from Will Self and Brian Eno, and stunning accounts of the future being made by people like Mustafa Suleyman and Rhianna Pratchett. I enjoyed chairing Green Party leader Caroline Lucas and South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill talking about future politics, but even more wandering around dipping into fierce debates or talks.

Most exciting of all was the sense of an emerging ethos – a shared commitment to directing technology in a more human, sensuous and responsive direction

Most exciting of all was the sense of an emerging ethos – a shared commitment to directing technology in a more human, sensuous and responsive direction; a shared interest in using play to explore complexities which don’t easily succumb to linear logic; a shared conviction that the world is evolving a collective intelligence of fused minds and machines that transcends the idea of a fixed self with boundaries; and a maker/hacker ethic of taking things apart and putting them back together in ways that better fit our needs. The themes of future work, play, love and thrive weaved together beautifully.

Precisely because it is a made world, it’s also a world that can be remade

In every case we saw the struggle against what Roberto Unger calls the ‘dictatorship of no alternatives’. That was the animating idea for FutureFest in the first place – to help people think about possible worlds and to see the world around them as constructed, designed and artificial, not as a fact of nature. Precisely because it is a made world, it’s also a world that can be remade.

Many of the people who came to FutureFest said that it gave them hope – hope that in a world threatened by demagogues, climate collapse, terrorism and mass unemployment, dramatically better routes to the future are being worked on, not just in theory but in practice too. As I said in my introduction to the event, the future is a choice not a destiny. All of us live in a world of constraints. But with each other’s help we can learn to become more competent shapers of a better future and defy those who say that the way things are is the way things have to be.

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Geoff Mulgan

Geoff Mulgan

Geoff Mulgan

Chief Executive Officer

Geoff Mulgan has been Chief Executive of Nesta since 2011. Nesta is the UK's innovation foundation and runs a wide range of activities in investment, practical innovation and research.

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