An artificial intelligence has been collecting species from Planet Earth in its spacecraft, and you’re now about to take a walk through the warehouse — is how a new science-fiction inspired exhibition at the Science Museum is presented.
Guests catch a shuttle flight from Earth up to the spacecraft and there, the female AI agent, Alann (Algorithmically Autonomous Neural Network) will explore with you how humans have created fiction from science, and how science has in turn been inspired by fiction.
It’s a new way of presenting an exhibition that will either delight, or leave you reaching for the headache pills afterwards.
As an exhibition, it’s pulled together a lot of the celebrities of the science fiction genre, primarily from film and television, with a passing nod to literature and art, so yes, there’s Star Wars, Star Trek, Forbidden Planet, the 5th Element and a host of other big screen stars to delight.
The way some of the rooms have been laid out feels rather like a futuristic collection of stuffed animals of the sort that was popular on Earth in Victorian times. Kill and mount the animals for display – although here being a Dalek, an Alien, a Robot. It’s very Flight of the Navigator, without the cute creatures.
Although some space has been given over to non-American science fiction, it’s not a huge amount, which is a pity as that’s an underrepresented area. Considering that the word Robot was invented in the Czech language play Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti, that feels like a missed opportunity.
That said, I can understand that wowing the visitors is important, so they need big headline names. People will be delighted to see Darth Vader’s helmet, a model of the USS Enterprise, Robbie the Robot, the Xenomorph from Ridley Scott’s Alien, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, and so on.
Putting the science back into the Science Museum, what the exhibition excels at is asking questions about how science fiction has driven real science. Sometimes a sci-fi show can present a fiction that’s so desirable that people seek to create it for real. From restoring dinosaurs to faster than light travel, and Star Trek’s medical tricorder.
And there’s a tricorder from the original show on display next to a device that can identify over 30 illnesses from a handheld scan of the body. The tricorder has been invented.
A lot of questions are asked about how Artificial Intelligence will fit into human social and legal norms. Do robots have human rights? Who is held responsible when an AI makes a mistake?
I personally find it interesting that artificial machines are often given genders as if we are incapable of building a machine without cluttering it up with the baggage of animal procreation. Does a robot really need breasts?
As an exhibition, it’s a good top-level look at the genre with enough celebrity props appearing to delight visitors.
I do have a problem personally with the presentation though.
It’s a clever and interesting idea, to create a spaceship that you walk through, and dotted around with a female AI guiding you. I can see that it’ll be hugely popular and could well appeal to people who think of museums as dry and boring. It’s a very good experiment.
My personal gripe is that it’s too loud — the rumble of the spacecraft plus the AI chatting all over the place and the video screens with people being interviewed created a very disconcerting cacophony of noise. The first room is also quite dark, and reading the descriptive texts proved challenging — black text on grey cards in a dark room was not the best idea. I do have a hearing issue which means my discomfort may not be yours, but if you are uncomfortable with being surrounded by a lot of noise, keep an eye on the museum website to see if they offer any quieter visits.
My own gripes aside, I can see this being a very popular family exhibition – it’s got all the big names you’d expect to have in a science fiction exhibition and the atmospheric display will appeal to a lot of people.
The exhibition, Science Fiction: Voyage to the Edge of Imagination is at the Science Museum until Star Wars Day – aka, the 4th May 2023.
- Adults: £20 | Seniors: £19 | Concessions: £18 | Children (<7): Free
- Family (3-5 visitors with no more than 2 adults) get £4 off per ticket.
- 6-9 adults booking as a group get 25% off per ticket.
Tickets should be booked in advance from here.
The exhibition will also be open late until 10pm on Friday 7th, 21st and 28th October 2022. The rest of the museum will not be open.
An accompanying book, edited by exhibition curator Glyn Morgan, has been published to mark the exhibition opening.