“Futuring” Governance in the Gulf

Kyle Chayka, “The Future Agency: Inside the Big Business of Imagining the Future,” The Verge (March 30, 2017).

The urban AI, hologram genie, and smart bathroom were part of the Museum of Future Government Services, a series of seamless interactive installations that demonstrated to attendees — Emirati politicians and civil servants, as well as foreign dignitaries and business leaders — how the UAE would serve its citizens several decades hence… Of course, none of the products demonstrated at the 2014 summit actually existed. Rather, Tellart’s job is to create believable, immersive visions of the future based on the needs of its clients, which range from the UAE to Google, Purina, and the California Academy of Sciences — anyone who needs a little bit of tomorrow today. As the company’s co-founder Nick Scappaticci says, “We are the industrial designers of the 21st century.”…

 

UAE’s self-conscious utopianism has been labeled “Gulf Futurism.” It can be seen as the deployment of technology in “the proto-fascism of a society that privileges success and speed over human life,” as the Dubai and Brooklyn-based writer Rahel Aima put it in a 2013 interview. …

The idealized narrative that Tellart created is meant to comfort one of the wealthiest and yet most ecologically imperiled regions in the world. In this future, the money from oil has solved all the problems that oil dependency creates — thanks to technology, the desert becomes a permanent oasis. Tellart’s work reassures its viewers that the environment is an issue that will simply be fixed one day, through no effort on their part, save perhaps cultivating a taste for bugs.