People can foresee the future only when it coincides with their own wishes, and most grossly obvious facts can be ignored when they are unwelcome.
To those who were once haunted by the outspoken British novelist George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) that chillingly revealed an imaginary future (1984) polluted by totalitarianism, law enforcement dishonesty, forced surveillance, and alas, the smothering of human virtues by distortion of morality and hunger for technological control, otherwise known today as artificial intelligence (AI), remember that the writer had envisioned such a universe in 1949, which has clearly surfaced as our reality after fifty years. The images and predictions in Orwell’s novel are spellbindingly staggering in parallel to what we currently witness in our world today—facial and voice recognition, Speakwrite technology that transcribes speech into written text, artificial islands for warship installations, Versificator music and literature composition program using AI, and other preconceived inventions. While Nineteen Eighty-Four depicted such a futuristic macrocosm in a dictatorial and destructive point-of-view, today these advanced technological tools are being presented to us in more hopefully positive tones and in various strategies to reverberate convenience, speed, safety and overall efficiency in work and daily life.
Mori Art Museum in Tokyo is currently exhibiting an astonishing exhibition on the probable impacts of artificial intelligence, robotics, biotechnology, information technology and radical design innovations on the future environment and humanity. Running until March 29, 2020, Future and the Arts: AI, Robotics, Cities, Life—How Humanity Will Live Tomorrow1 opens our minds to the almost infinite possibilities of scientific experimentation, consequently preparing us to confront adverse changes in our physical capacity, mindset and instinctive approach to environmental concerns. The exhibition is divided into five sections: New Possibilities of Cities, Toward Neo-Metabolism Architecture, Lifestyle and Design Innovations, Human Augmentation and Its Ethical Issues, and Society and Humans in Transformation, covering over 100 projects displaying modules, installations, videos, photography and architectural models by creators and innovators worldwide.
In New Possibilities of Cities, we imagine cities that are no longer confined to vertical construction on land. The Bjarke Ingels Group from Denmark, for example, exposes the possibility of a floating city on water in Oceanix City, a self-sufficient environment of hexagonal platforms made from “replenishable materials such as wood and fast-growing bamboo…” materials sitting on the ocean, which are weatherproof against floods, tsunami or hurricanes—evidently solving global climate changes we experience today. The colossal project synthesizes ocean engineering and advanced ecosystem technology that is able to channel the flow of energy, food and water through seawater urbanization. What is most appealing about the revolutionary architecture is its disassembly and reconfiguration function so that the structures can transform over time as they adapt to the changing needs of the residents.
A similar concept was implemented in the controversial design of the Nakagin Capsule Tower in Ginza, Tokyo by the Japanese dynamic architectural movement, Metabolism, initiated in the 1960s by Japan’s most prominent architects Kurokawa Kisho, Kikutake Kiyonori, Maki Fumihiko and Ekuan Kenji. The second section Toward Neo-Metabolism Architecture returns to this methodology of transportability and linkage with organic materials and the green environment through the use of drones, 3D printers and robotics. In Singapore, WOHA architects have created a completely garden-inspired building called Oasis Hotel Downtown that grows creeper vines on its exterior façade from top to bottom, blending with interior sky gardens and the natural environment outside. The call to fill our cities with more trees and vegetation is imperative in addressing global warming issues.
Lifestyle and Design Innovations dives more closely into daily products, services, food and amenities that incorporate biotechnological research, 3D printing and robotics. Humanoids and robots have already started to co-exist with human life, a phenomenon that may stem from detachment from daily face-to-face interaction, and thus, provokes our dependence on digital communication, consequently making machine “relationships” more convenient, flexible and stress-free. An example is the Lovot pet robot by Groove X in Tokyo, an animal-like creature that is meant to emanate affection through its internal sensors. Furniture and food can now be conceived as one entity. Klarenbeek & Dros designers from Netherlands exhibits an environmental-friendly chair, Veiled Lady III (from the “Mycelium Project”) that is made from fungus. Even our future food habits may change as the movement to protect the livestock industry grows, resulting to the development of artificial ingredients and transplant of living organisms, such as in Bistro in Vitro by Next Nature Network from Netherlands that illustrates artificial meat processed in a laboratory.
Genetic engineering may be alarming to the ordinary layman especially when the ultimate core of the human DNA is altered. Tissue culture enhanced into bio-art, for example, has been made possible in Bio Ateleir by Kubota Akihiro, professor at Tama Art University, Tokyo. One of the most inconceivable displays in the Human Augmentation and Its Ethical Issues section is UK designer Agi Haines’ “Transfiguration” Series wherein newborn babies’ physical features, such as nasal bridges, cheeks and eyes are “augmented” with bioengineering tools to reshape or transform them according to the desires of the parents. The term “designer babies” may be a prenatal choice for the future.
Finally, the last section Society and Humans in Transformation takes a bolder step in fusing human life with artificial intelligence that could modify social systems, such as children born from the DNA of three parents exemplified by Shared Baby by Ai Hasegawa. Patricia Piccinini from Australia shows in her sculpture Kindred that an orangutan-human hybrid can be possible. Looking at how organisms can be synthesized with human tissue makes us ponder on the artificial recreation of life and its ethical issues. After all, in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan, published as early as 1912, the ideology of human co-existence with the animal kingdom had already been interpreted proving that a human being could even possibly communicate in animal language and exhibit animal behavioral instincts. Would this concept not be so remote from the evolution of androids co-digitizing with humans? Perhaps, by human default to better protect our natural environment and preserve our humanistic virtues, one day the earth may be woven by a totally different fabric wherein even the simplest philosophy known as “Human” may just encompass an entirely separate meaning. Certainly, George Orwell was not the only person to have understood this.
1 Future and the Arts: AI, Robotics, Cities, Life—How Humanity Will Live Tomorrow. Mori Art Museum,Tokyo. Until March 29, 2020