Digital Alchemy: Future Technology Products

Digital Alchemy: Future Technology Products Inspired by Diverse Voices in Science Fiction (2020)
Interactive Art
Supported by EU Creative Europe Programme of the European Union Grant
A Feral Labs Project
Solo Exhibition at Catch (DK)

An Exhibition of Future Products 

This project is part of a residency with Catch: Center for Art, Design, and Technology in Helsingør, Denmark and is in collaboration with the Feral Labs Network and supported by the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union.

e-Protea is a 3D-printed IoT-enabled flower sculpture inspired by the M-CPU from Nnedi Okorafor’s From the Lost Diary of Treefrog7. The plant is imagined as evolving from e-waste. 3 TFT screens on the plant’s leaves are fed images influenced by Twitter activity from ESP-32 MCUs while a large screen in the plant’s main flower shows hybridized imagery inspired by the story. Every two minutes, this screen also shows observers video footage of themselves captured by a USB camera in the plant’s base.

Statement
There has been a long and rich history between science fiction and the development of new technologies. From virtual reality to teleconferencing, science fiction has left its ongoing influence on our present day device-driven world. But technologies are not neutral: they are imbued with the values and interests of their creators.

What are the implications, then, if many of the works of science fiction which we see attributed to modern technologies were penned by white cisgender heteronormative male authors? What are the implications if the same dominant voices are overwhelmingly centered in the design and development of new technology products? Who gets a voice in creating the future and who is excluded?

Future Technology Products explores works of science fiction written by a diverse body of authors including women, LGBQTQAI* folx, and people of color to realize diverse futures through the creation of fictional technologies. Situated at the intersection of product design, speculative fiction, maker culture and intersectional data feminism, the artist selects devices and technologies mentioned within these works and realizes them as interactive product prototypes. The objects will be displayed, in both a physical and virtual exhibition, alongside documentation regarding the process of creating the object based on the fictional text. In this way, the project serves as an homage to the works of diverse voices in science fiction while also exploring the relationship between sci-fi and future technologies that are imbued with and directive of our culture.

Please see Future Technology Products for the full exhibition.


The Products


Product #1: e-Protea

e-Protea is a 3D-printed IoT-enabled flower sculpture inspired by the M-CPU from Nnedi Okorafor’s From the Lost Diary of Treefrog7. The plant is imagined as evolving from e-waste. 3 TFT screens on the plant’s leaves are fed images influenced by Twitter activity from ESP-32 MCUs while a large screen in the plant’s main flower shows hybridized imagery inspired by the story. Every two minutes, this screen also shows observers video footage of themselves captured by a USB camera in the plant’s base.

 

 


Product #2: Quantum Communication Crystal

This installation features a pair of devices known as Quantum Communication Crystals which allow the user to communicate with a version of themself from another quantum timeline. In other words, the crystal allows you to speak with another you—one who made different decisions. Always wondered what your life might’ve amounted to if you’d taken a different fork somewhere along the way? What might your life have been like if you’d studied science instead of art, or married your High School crush, or been born into a better or worse situation? The quantum communication crystal allows you to find out! The objects are based on the Plaga Interworld Signaling Mechanism prisms found in Ted Chiang’s short story “Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom” in which a group of addicts become addicted to speaking with their quantum selves.

The pair of crystals displayed show a conversation between the artist and the artist’s deep fake double. A generative adversarial network or GAN was used to create a deep fake video of the content for the 2nd crystal, producing a video in which the artist (themself) has never said the words you are hearing. While today’s GPU-limitations make it impossible to create an interface where visitors can create their own deepfaked conversation in a reasonable amount of time as in the story, the artist welcomes public submissions via: futuretechnologyproducts.com


Product #3: The Influencisizer

The Influencisizer is a feedback system that uses eye tracking to gauge attention and respond by automatically adjusting the content that is output to the viewer. The device is based on the media feedback system in The Girl Who Was Plugged In which allows producers to instantly adjust television content based on biofeedback gathered from viewers who are plugged into a sensor array. The system is a compliment to the wetware the story’s main character has implanted in her by an advertising firm so she can mentally fuse with an empty body, allowing her to become a walking, talking advertisement (an example of influencer culture before its time). Because of COVID-19, I elected to make a contactless version of this system which uses gaze tracking over a webcam in lieu of sensors. The result is a realistic technology that automatically adjusts advertising content based on gaze in an to attempt to hold the viewer’s attention.


 

Educational Toolkit
Throughout the residency, tutorials including source code will be created describing the design and development process behind each object. These materials will cover topics such as programming in Python and C/C++ (Arduino), physical computing, embedded electronics, and fabrication processes such as 3D printing. This toolkit can be disseminated online to extend the project’s reach and usefulness as a topic of discussion, inspiration and education.


Virtual Exhibition
In order to extend the project’s reach and also because it is uncertain what regulations around COVID19 will exist, Catch will hold a virtual exhibition that will be permanently available. Watch this space for the link.