It is a charming irony that to visit Dubai’s Museum of the Future – which is celebrating its first anniversary this week – would-be guests need to do some future planning of their own given its popularity.
With tickets sold out until well into March, it is easy to see how the landmark building has smashed its target of attracting more than a million visitors in its first year – achieving an average of well over 83,000 guests a month. This public engagement with complex technology and trends is to be welcomed, given the challenges and opportunities that rapid digital development present.
The museum’s first year has coincided with a string of paradigm shifts in advanced technology that are already affecting our lives and will continue to do so. Artificial intelligence in particular has moved from the realm of science fiction to an everyday reality as evidenced by ChatGPT – the AI-based chatbot – becoming a household name.
Elsewhere, some are still investing in digital art through NFTs and the collapse of FTX, the world’s third-largest cryptocurrency exchange, is making people rethink the future of digital money.
Other challenges lie ahead. This week, a conference in Dubai heard how issues around online trademarks, patents and intellectual property require legislation to resolve legal disputes in the virtual world. When it comes to AI-generated content, a legal free-for-all looms as legislators try to play catch-up with a technology that feels as if it is advancing quicker than our ability to set rules for it.
The Museum of the Future comes into its own here. Far from being a collection of static displays, it has hosted more than 180 local, regional, and international events on critical topics such as entrepreneurship, space and the economy.
It has also been a meeting point for those intimately connected to the galloping pace of technological change, having received more than 1,000 international experts, ministers and dignitaries, including 20 heads of government.
In cultural terms too it has made its presence felt. As well as being a futuristic museum, it is also an Arab one. Its 77-metre-high circular exterior is covered in swirling calligraphic poetry, making it a building that “speaks” Arabic. As an engineering feat and architectural achievement, the Museum of the Future lives up to its forward-looking character, having been awarded LEED Platinum certification for its sustainable design, construction and operation.
It has also attracted its fair share of star power, recently hosting the Time100 Gala and Impact Awards featuring South African architect and curator of the first Islamic Arts Biennale, Sumayya Vally, rapper and philanthropist will.i.am, celebrated actor Idris Elba and Egyptian actress and UN aid ambassador Salma Abu Deif.
The diversity of its exhibits, events and meetings has been reflected in the composition of its one million visitors. Coming from 163 countries, their numbers led the museum to extend its opening hours last November to accommodate the high demand.
Inaugurating the museum this time last year, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai – whose poetry it is that graces the building’s walls – described it as a “message of hope, a global scientific platform and an integrated institutional framework to shape a better future for all of us".
Having a museum that not only educates but offers a space for everyone to participate in shaping that future is more than just a landmark or a tourist attraction – it is an asset for Dubai, the UAE and the world.