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Trend forecaster Li Edelkoort
Li Edelkoort

"People with money are using AI and robots like their new slaves" says Li Edelkoort

The use of robots and AI is a "new form of colonialism" that will lead to a resurgence of Arts and Crafts, according to trend forecaster Li Edelkoort.

Edelkoort has been a trend forecaster since she was 21 and says the discipline has "informed every single step of my life".

During an on-stage interview with Dezeen deputy editor Cajsa Carlson at Downtown Design during Dubai Design Week, Edelkoort explained that she is currently thinking about the return of Arts and Crafts, the 19th-century movement mostly associated with British designer William Morris.

"I'm craving fantasy – I don't know where it comes from, but it's there," she said. "I'm craving almost childish initiatives and design, I'm craving colour, I'm craving painting, motif and ornamental finishes."

"It's been building up for a few years," she added. "I really believe in the return of Arts and Crafts, as it has been described by William Morris. And I think it might also be our future."

Edelkoort predicts society will soon have "universal allowance of money"

Edelkoort anticipates that in the next few years, we will look more to our inner child – a trend she claims she's already seen evidence of.

"As a kid, you always want to use cardboard to make a new building, or a box becomes your house," she said. "And sure enough, Max Lamb recently made an exhibition of cardboard furniture."

"That's how trends work – he's maybe not going back to childhood, but I use this way of thinking and then we come together on a similar idea."

Picture of Li Edelkoort by a tree
Li Edelkoort is one of the world's foremost trend forecasters. Photo by Thirza Schaap

The Dutch trend forecaster was also influenced by Morris' book News from Nowhere, which envisions a future society where money is allocated in a different way to a capitalist system.

"There's no stealing, there's no judge, there's no prison, there's no marriage so there is no divorce – there's money, but there's not a monetary system," she said.

Edelkoort believes this could become a reality in just a decade.

"It's more like the universal allowance of money, which will come to us very soon, I think in 10 years from now," she said. "That will allow us to develop our own world, because the work will be done by artificial intelligence."

AI and robots will lead to the "age of the amateur"

The rise of AI and robots will also mean we need to rethink the reason for our existence since it will no longer be tied to work, she says.

"You see that people with money are using AI and robots like their new slaves, it's a new form of colonialism," she said. "And we have to share the money that is made by the bots."

"We will have to give [people] a reason for being here," she added. "[Otherwise], a baby will be born without a future and no reason to be born, because there's no way there's going to be work – if we define the future as work, which we do."

But she believes that if a future in which robots and AI do all the work comes to pass, creativity can help us find reasons to live.

"I think we will create an Arts and Crafts world next to this billionaire world and they will sort of coexist," she said. "I call it the 'age of the amateur'".

"What is new is what's coming from the Global South"

As well as looking at long-term societal changes, Edelkoort's work focuses on more contemporary trends. Her latest book, Proud South, looks at fashion, photography and art from the Global South.

In Dubai, which she described as "the platform of the Global South", the trend forecaster explained why we should be looking to designs from the southern parts of the planet.

Proud South by Li Edelkoort
Edelkoort's latest book is called Proud South

"In the North, it's very boring because people keep designing the same thing," she said. "They already have a cupboard full of the same thing. Sometimes you buy something and come home and say, oh shit, I already have that – you forgot."

"What is new is the South, what is coming from the Global South. That's why I made a book called Proud South, which is celebrating what is happening in the regions in the southern part of the planet."

Rather than being about specific designers and design movements, her focus is on broader influences.

"It's really more of a vision, I would say, than individual brands or people," she explained. "It's to do things from the heart, from the origin, from the tribe, sometimes from the indigenous culture, from whatever inference you can pick up in the South, and how do you translate that into, in this case, fashion and photography."

A second book in the series will look at design and craft, and Edelkoort hopes the books will help create "happiness" for people in other regions of the world.

"There are a lot of health problems, mental health problems, with young people especially," she said.

"I think the South is giving us solutions as a form of intrinsic happiness, which is translated in colour, in motif and in the destination of fashion and photography. And it has a power which we have lost."

"There is this possibility for a change"

As well as Proud South, Edelkoort is working on a trend book about Paris, a city that she says "is fascinating because it hasn't changed and everything else changed."

"In Paris, people don't like to change – French people hate change, they love tradition," she said.

She is also focusing on the World Hope Forum, which she founded together with Philip Fimmano with Dezeen as a media partner to be a "holistic global platform for the exchange and expansion of knowledge, innovation".

Proud South by Li Edelkoort
Fashion by Cape Town-based designer Chu Suwannapha features in the book. Photo by Jacobus Snyman

The idea came to her after doing a talk with Dezeen during the coronavirus pandemic.

"I did this talk with Dezeen, and it was seen by more than a million people," she said. "So I was like 'wow, what is happening now – if there is this impact of what I think and say, maybe I can reach people to create a better world.'"

The World Hope Forum aims to reach people with good news, rather than the negative news stories that Edelkoort feels we're constantly being fed. Its YouTube channel showcases hopeful films under different themes.

"We have bundled hopeful scenarios: making money, making people happy, being better for the planet, being better for the future," Edelkoort explained.

"When you see them adding up, it really becomes notable, and you can feel in your soul that there is this possibility for change."

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