Designer Agi Haines not only uses biotech, she uses it on the human body. “I think we’re really malleable.” Her work touches upon the tension that splits the debate on human enhancement: should we try to improve our own biology? From a previous post you may remember Agi’s self-defibrillating heart, which shows how bioprinting may one day merge an eel’s electric organ with a human heart. As a speculative biodesigner, Agi confronts people with their unknown inside. But the world of science is not always open to that.
Author: Gijs de Boer
Our blog is a quest towards democratic biotechnology. But why is democracy of value in technological development? Should we even pollute labs with the ambivalent needs of citizens? It seems reasonable since what labs produce could pollute our lives. And there seem to be proper ways to mind the public. Let’s consider the perspective of two philosophers.
How to show the possible implications of synbio? Science fiction! Film has a long tradition of speculation. From Metropolis to The Matrix, from Star Wars to Her. Futuristic technologies become relatable with story and through visualization. Nowadays lots of visual trips into the future popup, both from fresh filmmakers and the field of design fiction. The science fiction short Blue-Eyed Me, shown above, explores some quite plausible commercial consequences of synbio.
“Science fiction is great for this, as it lets the story be both a metaphor for what’s going on today, and an extrapolation into the future.” – creator Alexey Marfin on Motherboard
Design is the focus of my thread in the Biopolitics project. You might wonder what design has to do with technologies that may still take years to develop. Biotechnology is not something you would easily encounter in stores. What is there to design? Normally design comes after technological development. Only when the touchscreen was ready, the iPhone was designed. Only when LED lighting was ready, the portable flashlight was created. Right?
Things turn out to be more complicated. Consider the envisioned tablet from 2001: A Space Odyssey, or autonomous concept cars of today. When technology is not yet market-ready, design can guide the direction of development. With visions materialized in futuristic products, technicians are inspired and consumers are prepared.
This is happening with biotechnology as well. Designers are exploring the possibilities of designing life. Some speculative designers aim to ponder about the future through fictional products. Why? With the noble goal to make technology more democratic.
Technologies shape our lives, but who shapes them? The answer seems hidden behind laboratory doors. With emerging biotechnology in mind, such questions become pressing. In 10 years there will likely be bioengineered products in our homes. Who influences their development? And for whom are they actually developed? Why is research funded? Do citizens play a part?
This blog documents our journey to an answer. We are Duuk Baten, Erik van de Pieterman and Gijs de Boer, and we study the relation between research labs, design studios and the world outside. The upcoming three months we will shed light on the politics behind synthetic biology.