Fri 06 – Sat 07-Jul-2018

First weekend of July saw the 4th edition of Nesta FutureFest. For those of you who don’t know, Nesta is UK government’s agency for innovation (one of very few government bodies I feel isn’t wasting my taxpayer contributions), and FutureFest is its sorta-annual (taking place about once every 18 months) two-day festival.

The event consists of talks on a number of stages + smaller accompanying events and presentations. The closest reference point to FutureFest I can think of is New Scientist Live, but NS Live is mostly “pure” science: whether it’s quantum physics, CERN, DNA memory storage, or nuclear fusion, it’s mostly just talks on some exciting discoveries, ideas, and inventions. It is thought-provoking but largely uncontroversial and apolitical.

FutureFest is a little different. While the focus is firmly on the future (as the name would suggest), it is broader than science and technology and also considers social, urban, artistic, and even philosophical and religious angles. This holistic scope makes the event really unique.

The 2018 event was held in the Tobacco Dock in London over one of the hottest weekends of the year, which, given that most of the building is covered with glass roof, made attending some of the jam-packed talks (and vast majority of them were jam-packed…) something of a challenge, but trust me, well worth it. Plus the venue itself is really nice too (I believe some of the Wired magazine’s events are being held there as well).

The Nesta team did a brilliant job booking diverse headline speakers to deliver talks across a very broad spectrum of subject I’d describe as not just “future”, but more so “us humans and our future”.

Just to give you a little taste of the diversity of the 2018 talks, here are titles of the ones I attended:

  • The geopolitics of AI
  • Will my job exist in 2030?
  • 2027: When the post-work era begins
  • Digital workers of the world, unite?
  • How blockchain can, literally, save the world
  • The tangle of mind and matter
  • Future humans: augmented selves
  • Let there be bytes
    (I’ll expand on a couple of these in greater detail in separate posts).

In parallel, there was a “meet the author” stage, where I resisted buying even more books I may never get a chance to read (I regretted afterwards), and where I finally managed to talk to my idol Dr. Julia Shaw, and caught up with the inimitable and very, very candid Ruby Wax.

What struck me as surprising was that of the 2 days, Friday was definitely busier and more packed with attendees. I mean… I had to take a day off work to attend, was everyone else there on business? Or was it the World Cup quarterfinal match (England vs. Sweden – we won) on Saturday? In any case, I showed up on both days and had an absolute blast. It was intense and towards Saturday evening my brain was definitely overflowing, but it was absolutely worth it. I can’t wait for the next one.