Future Machine with it's copper coloured trolley, box of dials, lever, handcrank and the Octagon with a copper rectangle in the front with a slot for the printed messages to come out and two copper trumpets on either side

Future Machine at Halfway to the Future

The Future Machine was invited to appear at the Halfway to the Future symposium in Nottingham in November 2019. This symposium explored the past, present and future of HCI research (Human Computer Interaction is a research field within the discipline of Computer Science). The symposium was hosted by the Mixed Reality Lab at the University of Nottingham where I did my PhD. The Mixed Reality Lab are the academic, research partners on the project and have co-funded the building of the Future Machine.

This was a strange place to take the Future Machine, with it’s agriculture feeling trolley base of heavy steel and bashed and used wheels and wood and it’s large totemic Octagon with raw materials of Ash wood and copper. It was placed in the exhibition area of the event amongst the screens, research posters and interactive demonstrations. Making it’s strange weather, shaman, symbolic sounds and printing out quests for the future, asking people to whisper their hopes, dreams and messages for people who visit the machine in the future.

It is my plan to only take the Future Machine to the places where it has emerged from this year, that are part of it’s journey around England (Finsbury Park, Kingswood Common, Christchurch Gardens and Tilberthwaite Quarry) but it is interesting to try out how it works as a demonstration/exhibition in an indoor space. The Future Machine is due to be exhibited indoors in 2021 at Furtherfield Gallery in Finsbury Park in the run up to the Autumn Procession in the Park in 2021, so it was a chance to see how this might work.

What was most useful was the feedback from the researchers at the symposium, particularly around the interaction (that being their expertise).

Some of the feedback:
Someone said it was like a fairytale, 3 people mentioned it reminded them of the Monolith from 2001 which is amazing! People stroked it and touched the copper. Some people thought the base was copper and couldn’t work out the material. People liked the trolley and the mixture of rustic and futuristic, discussing if it was steam punk, futuristic or old fashioned.

Some people left very short messages. The way they used it really depended on my framing (a few people who I didn’t talk to just came up and twiddled buttons really fast and turned and pulled things waiting for a reaction or feedback). Whereas talking to them seemed to slow their interactions down and got them to think and do it slowly. Some people came back to watch others (one man stayed with it for half an hour watching and thinking about it).

Some people did long confessional messages and took it very seriously.