Monday, February 12, 2007

The influence of biotechnologies

Elio Caccavale is a product and interaction designer who explores the relationship between biotechnologies and our reactions to the "transhuman". He developped a series of toys that symbolize the emergence of biological hybrids.

MyBio bunny, MyBio glowing fish and MyBio jellyfish glow bright green when illuminated with a UV light, demonstrating how scientists have used GFP as a fluorescent indicator for monitoring gene expression in living organisms; MyBio reactor cow shows how cows produce proteins in their milk for pharmaceutical drugs (this is symbolized by the "milk thread" attached to the cow's udders); MyBio goat has a spider web attached to the udders demonstrating one animal making the natural product of another.

As Nicholas Negroponte said in Wired, beyond Digital, 1998: "The decades ahead will be a period of comprehending biotech, mastering nature, and realizing extraterrestrial travel, with DNA computers, microrobots, and nanotechnologies the main characters on the technological stage. Computers as we know them today will a) be boring, and b) disappear into things that are first and foremost something else: smart nails, self-cleaning shirts, driverless cars, therapeutic Barbie dolls, intelligent doorknobs that let the Federal Express man in and Fido out, but not 10 other dogs back in. Computers will be a sweeping yet invisible part of our everyday lives: We'll live in them, wear them, even eat them. A computer a day will keep the doctor away."

Now that the new technological stage described by Nicolas Negroponte is prominent, I study the materiality perceived through these technologies. I believe that this modification of our perception of the environment is developped through our experience with the digital.


Elvin said...

Your closing comment "that this modification of our perception of the environment is developped through our experience with the digital" surprised me since it seems to me that so much of what Negroponte and Caccavale (and you in your own work) are getting at is the disappearance of the digital as other more integrative technologies enable more direct perception.

Unknown said...

I agree that a lot of recent work in TUI is about the disappearance of the digital, but in my work I take a different perspective.

In my work, with each other the digital and the physical have a function. Without each other they also have a function. This differs from current considerations of physical and tangible representation by allowing the virtual and the physical to exist independently from each other, or, rather, to co-exist in a way that informs one another. I don't want the digital to disappear! Neither the physical.

My point is that living with the digital now makes us interact with the environment in a different way, with expectations on how objects should be and act.

"As an illustration of this new area consider the usual RFID tagging. RFID tags have been used throughout the physical space for cuing purposes. Beyond that, I argue that the presence of content cues throughout the space redefines our very perception of that space. Now an alternative to RFID tagging is possible, such that arbitrary physical properties of objects can be used as tags to content. One promising line of work is using mass to arbitrarily define tags. Any object can be assigned tag status by linking the mass of the object to some content that the user likes to represent from their environment. By reintroducing the appropriately weighted object to the system, the content can be recalled. Tagging serve as a means for feedback from the physical environment back to the virtual community. This line of thought is now possible by having been digital, conceptually, and subsequently discovering new design principles within the physical space. Tagging with the mass of the object uses technology to link the intrinsic physicality of the material to new conceptual possibilities regarding how we perceive physical space, content of physicality and extended virtual communities."