Futurefest 2016 – Review

will self futurefest

FutureFest explored how we’ll love, work, play and thrive

The third FutureFest, a unique festival hosted by innovation foundation Nesta, took place this weekend. Samuel Fry reflects on the talks and debates about the future of love, work, play and thriving.

I have been to both of the previous two FutureFest events. Each event brought to life the trends and technologies that will shape our future and this year’s event was no different. Over the course of the weekend I was able to take part in immersive experiences, watch heated debates and listen to expert speakers.

The event was hosted by Nesta, the UK’s innovation foundation, and it explored four core themes: Future Love, Future Play, Future Work and Future Thrive.

Geoff Mulgan, Chief Executive of Nesta, explained before the event that “A flood of new technologies is set to change our daily lives – from self-driving cars to implants, gene testing to augmented reality. FutureFest gives us all a chance to explore, see and feel what’s around the corner so that we can shape a future that fits our needs rather than just being passive observers and consumers.” Mulgan truly stood by this statement, as he found himself being “chipped” with a hand implant in one of the early sessions on the Saturday.

I began my experience in a room called “Imagine” with a talk called “The wood between the worlds” by the writer and political commentator Will Self.

Self explained that he is constantly trying to play and that he worries that “Play has been Candycrushed” for most people in the world. He encouraged the audience to turn off their phones and “try setting off from your house and drift through the city”, you will find that “you can step outside of time.” Referring to this state as “the dérive”, a mode of experimental behavior linked to the conditions of urban society, Self suggested that the audience should try to walk from a city to an airport, take a flight and then walk to the next city to see what it does to your mind and your body.

Will Self, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

After Will Self’s talk, Ghislaine Boddington introduced a session which asked, “What will it feel like when we are part cyborgs?” The session included live human chipping, poetry and a discussion about the positive and negative future of implants. It really set the tone for the event.

I stayed at Futurefest throughout the weekend and enjoyed a number of the talks. One of my favourite talks was given by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, from Stanford University, on the topic of “Designing Your Life”. The pair presented with flair and fun about the importance of evaluating and planning your future. Although, perhaps “planning” is the wrong term, as in reality they were encouraging everyone to design and prototype in their life. Prototypes should be simple, quick and you should learn something. Burnett and Evans explained that prototyping your life can simply be done as an experience or a conversation with someone currently doing something similar to what you want to do.

Soh Yeong Roh and Interactive Installations

Another interesting talk was given by Soh Yeong Roh from Art Center Nabi, in South Korea.

Art Center Nabi explore the interactions between humans and technology. Over the last few years the centre has created a number of robots that interact with humans and show signs of emotional intelligence. A lot of progression has been made in this area and, as Soh Yeong Roh explained, “Robots might get to the point where they understand us better than our own mums”. Her talk was really inspiring as she explained that we are entering a world where it is no longer “Man vs. Machine”, but it’s time for “Man with Machine”.

There were also a number of interactive installations available to view between talks, which I created Vines of below.

Brian Eno and FutureFest

The most popular talk on the event, in terms of audience numbers at least, seemed to be Brain Eno. Most people know Eno for the music that he has created and produced; yet, at FutureFest he was giving a talk that argued that we should continue playing in various ways throughout the whole of our lives – not just as children. He described “That sense that learning is about being serious. That’s what I want to fight against”. Eno spoke a lot about education and that we should “Invert what we think of as ‘work’ & ‘play’ and people will learn more faster better”. It seemed that the audience agreed with just about everything that he had to say.

Near the end of the event I was lucky enough to get to speak to, one of FutureFest’s curators, Ghislaine Boddington about what the aims for the event was. Boddington explained that: “We aim, as a group, for people to leave FutureFest with lots of questions.” She continued to say that, “We want people to have access to extend their thinking on [the future] so that they are able to have a say – as it goes into a mass discussion.” It certainly broadened my mind and I am sure that FutureFest did the same for many others.


FutureFest took place at Tobacco Dock in London on Saturday 17 and Sunday 18 September 2016. For more information visit futurefest.org.



Samuel Fry

Director, Create Hub

Samuel is the Director of Create Hub. Samuel has a history of working with creative, innovative and entrepreneurial companies such as the creative-business incubator Cockpit Arts, in the Creative Economy team at Nesta, with entrepreneur network Virgin Media Pioneers and as the Enterprise Consultant at University of Bristol. All opinions are his and not those of his employers.


All photographs courtesy of FutureFest.

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