Anab Jain | Superﬂux
Hello and good morning! Thanks for having me here, thanks for waking up so early and
coming down, specially when it so gorgeous outside...
Let me start by showing a short video: Video here: http://www.vimeo.com/13230218
Most of us are aware of the stories of oil exempliﬁed by such popular series as Dallas...
But none of these stories have a deep water oil rig gushing hundreds of thousands of
barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico day on day for months.
We could put it down to the act of God, with the only solution being divine intervention,
as Sarah Palin seems to suggest in this tweet. But I think we all might agree that its not a
particularly helpful or useful way to address this situation.
“We love the tangible, the real, the visible,
the known, the social, the scholarly-
sounding verbiage, the pompous Gaussian
economist, men in black suits, Harvard
Business School, the Nobel Prize.
Most of all we favor the narrated...
Photo Credit: ﬂickr.com/photos/thomasglobal
On the other hand Nassim Taleb, the well known author of the Black Swan might
attribute this sort of occurrence to the idea of ‘Ludic Fallacy’, a term he has used to
exemplify the ﬁnancial crash of 2008.
Alas, we are not manufactured, in our current
edition of the human race, to understand
abstract matters — we need context.
We respect what has happened, ignoring what
could have happened...
Nassim Taleb, Ludic Fallacy, The Black Swan
Photo Credit: ﬂickr.com/photos/thomasglobal
While Taleb was able to see through the abstraction and even predicted the ﬁnancial
collapse of 2008. And Roosevelt’s face on the 100 dollar note seemed to look
increasingly sad, reﬂecting the misery of the bankers and the wider public.
‘Black Swan Protection Protocol’
On the other hand, Taleb was looking up. He reportedly made a multi-million dollar
fortune through Universa, in its approximately $2 billion “Black Swan Protection
Protocol”, a fund to whom Taleb is a principal adviser.
Photo Credit: Kris Krüg
But I am not a trader, I am not in the business of predicting the most
I am in the business of Broadening Perspectives
Photo Credit: Kris Krüg
I am a designer and I’m in the business of broadening perspectives.
And that is why the idea of ludic fallacy interests me, because design can acknowledge
this ludic fallacy. Design processes can create narratives that translate the invisible into
the visible, the known, the tangible.
Which is one part of what we do through our design studio Superﬂux. We are a network
company - we love to collaborate with talented people, work in multidisciplinary teams
and craft beautiful experiences as designers do...
Let me quickly show you our detailed strategy.
Place the drawing at the back of a piece of paper.
There it is, small enough to ﬁt into one sheet of my sketchbook. There’s the client facing
consultancy working on the ‘Now’.
But there’s the ‘lab’ on the right, through which we create speculative proposals of
different possible futures. We do this by using design tools like storytelling, prototype
building, and scenario creation.
And thats the part I’d like to talk about today. I’d like to explore this evolving role of the
designer today, the inﬂuence it can have, and how that might be useful for us, for
businesses and organisations moving into a seemingly difficult uncertain future.
Futures d t Now
Using Design as a Tool for Speculation
But why bother, what’s the point of thinking about the future, its the now, its the action that
Well, maybe... but how do we actually move along this line, how do we create those desirable
habitats and worlds that we all want to live in? How this line or that fuzzy space will evolve - how
our lives in the future will change, is best discussed when there are a number of prototypes to listen
to, look at, to acknowledge what the positive or negative impacts might be, to even get angry with,
or ﬁnd exciting opportunities.
Thats my talk title - the Future.dot now - And now I’d like to show a few examples which illustrate
“Hi, The Hurricane season is fast approaching and is still bearing
disturbing post Hurricane IKE memory paths in my mind...
Photo credit: ﬂickr.com/photos/chucksimmins
For that, let me start by reading out a letter from someone called Helen...
It had pained me during Hurricane IKE to see people kill each other in
the lines for gas station, while some stupid teeny bopper demanded gas
so she could plug in her hair straightener to the generator.”
Photo Credit: ﬂickr.com/photos/tampics
“I have no money and am racing the clock to ﬁnd work in this
almost extinct economy, but I have some ideas about non energy
sucking beauty products,
I believe Houston is deﬁnitely an area where your ideas can be tested.
Photo Credit: ﬂickr.com/photos/meltedplastic
And so I am very interested in working to develop an Ark Collective
in Houston. Can someone contact me about how I could do that?”
Photo Credit: ﬂickr.com/photos/jonnya
Design Solutions for a Post-Crash Civilization
She wrote this letter to Ark-Inc, a company that creates investment platforms and
design solutions for a post-crash civilization.
Project by Jon Ardern, 2006
This is the website of Ark-Inc. showing the services and products it offers for living in a post crash
civilisation, alongwith forums for people to meet and discuss, what investments might be good and
so on. Surely this cant be real. Yes, you’re right, its not real, it was a design ﬁction project by
designer Jon Ardern back in 2006.
But over the course of the last few years, people like Helen, who barely survived one of the worst
possible hurricane of our century seem to believe in the value of such services. This platform made
one extreme scenario appear possible through the design tools it used. The ﬁction became a reality
for many, and now as the project moves forward, it has become more about collaboration, service
execution and ofcourse legal implications.
Lot of ‘participatory projects’ stress the importance of multidisciplinary collaborations. I think
the same is true even while prototyping possibilities for the near future. These are images
from the Power of 8, a multidisciplinary collaboration where a diverse group of people came
together to explore different possible ways in which emerging technologies might impact our
And here, the designer becomes a facilitator, an astute generalist...
The Beamer Bee
One key concern the group had was around dying honeybees and the unprecedented decline
in natural pollinators.
Now the biotechnologist in the group thought it might be possible to engineer genetically
modiﬁed bees that appear ‘natural’. And some people in the group wanted to explore that
idea further. However, the permaculturist thought that interfering with nature’s way would not
be acceptable. Finally, we thought the best way would be to mock up a design prototype of
this synthetic hacked bee and see what happens.
And this is that bee. Its called the beamer bee.
BEAMER BEE EVOLUTION
Here’s the diagram showing our hack.
As you see plasmids of various different creatures were put together inside a bee
embryo, including that of the bat’s - which can sense radiowaves. So unlike the current
bees that are supposed to be disoriented by electromagnetic smog, our beamer bees live
in harmony with them.
Video: Making of the Beamer Bees
Here’s the video we made showing how the biotechnologist/hacker might make the
bees. Video here: http://www.vimeo.com/7231401
While that the video showing how our conceptual prototype was made, here are the
actual 3d printed versions, made at the Bartlett School of Architecture. Or they could
have been made in one of the fablabs, we have seen here.
Again, rather then leave it at the stage of a technology or a prototype, our interest was in seeing
how people might adapt to these new creatures in their everyday lives. We do this by creating
stories, and this image represents one such story: As local food growing gets increasingly
popular, people attract these beamer bees by putting wiﬁ routers emitting radiowaves to call
By creating such stories, we are exploring that aspect of technology that makes us all tick - the
actual day-to-day experience of using it and its implication.
But few months later I found myself inside a fake passport image, inside this Italian
magazine! They had featured some women designers, and my title was ‘Inventor of
Insects’! I also had some emails asking if we had patented the insects.
Robobees, Wyss Institute, Harvard
So you might think, ah! you conned the press. But here I am not talking about another fanciful
science ﬁction - look at these diagrams, these are real robotic bees! Maybe not biological, but
certainly autonomous pollinating creatures, being created by the Wyss Institute Harvard, aided by
$10 million grant from the National Science Foundation.
The RoboBee scientists will create robotic bees that ﬂy and pollinate crops autonomously, much like
real bees. The design questions this robotic insect technology raises are similar to the ones we were
discussing with the synthetic bees. How will they affect the ecosystems? How will we live with them?
While it may feel like these props and scenarios are tricking people into believing certain things -
the signiﬁcant point here is how these help people to see things in a new light, help them think
about ideas outside of consensus reality.
Also, the other important point is that what might seem unbelievable today is often tomorrow’s
reality, and by creating such proposals, we could broaden the horizon of what is perceived possible.
Lastly, it starts a sustained, trusting dialogue between very different disciplines who would not
normally talk. Designers who may usually be considered as form givers or experience-creaters can
also be the ones who can facilitate and even create change.
Alright then, lets have a bit of science ﬁction ﬁnally. Anyone guess what this is? Yes, thats
right, its a 5th Dimensional Camera. This project was produced as a result of a collaboration
with quantum physicists, with an objective to explore the implications of living in a world
where quantum computing becomes ubiquitous.
Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle
A particle in all possible
Superposition = states simultaneously
Quantum computers that our physicists are trying to build is around this mathematical
equation, called the Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. It highlights the idea that atoms
or molecules can be a state of superposition - simply put - even though we can not see
it - they can be in many states at the same time.
The 5th Dimensional Perspective
Inspired by Hugh Everett’s ‘Many World Interpretation’
But what we found most fascinating was Hugh Everett’s Many worlds interpretation,
which states that just like the molecules and atoms being in many states at the same
time, so are we, only we cant see or experience it. Could that mean, that I could be
standing here right now, and be at some other place at the same time? Sounds very very
Could we have Listening Devices that tune into parallel worlds?
But what would you do if you knew this was possible? Well, I know what I’d want to do,
I’d want to ﬁnd out! So we began exploring how to reach out - could we have listening
devices that tune into parallel worlds? (image showing a two-horn system of acoustic
location at Bolling Field, USA, in 1921, came up in discussion with the scientists last year)
Could we have Devices to See into parallel worlds?
Photo Credit: ﬂickr.com/photos/gsfc
And what about actually seeing parallel worlds...?
there we are sketching a device that can see other other
dimensions - beyond time -
That sounds fascinating, the idea of breaking the time/space boundaries as we know
We started sketching ideas of a device that might allow us to photograph parallel worlds.
What might it look like, and how will it help people connect this weird scientiﬁc quantum
theory to their everyday lives.
And here it is... our little contribution to science ﬁctionalise your everyday lives: The 5th
Dimensional Camera, a ﬁctional device that takes images of parallel worlds as theorised
by Hugh everett.
Its a shiny machine-like object - with a timer. If you set a timer and point it at yourself
or something you felt like, it would come back with a whole set of images.
Like this one.
We created stories of three people who might use the camera to photograph their mundane
lives. In this instance, its a young girl who leaves the camera on for 8 hours, comes back and
writes what she did in that time. As the camera ﬁres, it brings back images of what she might
have done in other worlds. Most of them seem equally mundance... except for something like a
ﬁre, or someone else in her place, or her not being there at all. Each image is time stamped
illustrating that they were taken parallel worlds at the same time.
In this case, public engagement was the key. Creating a curiosity, a dialogue
between the science and wider public around technologies currently only in science
labs, and which will be in inevitably part of our tomorrow became very important.
We got some great discussions with young students, including those who got lost
from their groups. but the one comment on the right is particularly interesting- i
like the idea of seeing into the future. Being able to have that visible design
prototype helped him explore the possibilities this rather counterintuitive science
Robert Boyle (1627 – 1691)
This idea of looking into the future was explored by British scientist Robert boyle -
on the right is the wishlist he created back in the 1600s, almost four centuries ago.
Some of the things on his list include:
The Art of Flying
Photo Credit: flickr.com/photos/dockwarrior
The Art of Flying: Yes we have that, the boring journeys we make stuck in a chair in
The retaining of Youth, or atleast some marks of it
‘The retaining of youth, or atleast some marks of it.’ One good example would be botox,
it makes sure one stay young or atleast unable to frown about getting old.
The transmutation of species in minerals, animals and vegetables
Then there’s the transmutation of species in minerals, animals and vegetable, here’s a
genetically modiﬁed glow in the dark cat -the perfect pet you want to come home to, on
a dark night.
Pleasing Dreams exempliﬁed by the Egyptian Electuary and Fungus
...One area people have not stopped exploring!
The attaining of Gigantik Dimensions
and ﬁnally - ‘the attaining of gigantik dimensions’ - maybe? well we tried...
“People assume progress even
if they don't see it.
They lean into tomorrow as if
it will be better than today –
but there is no shared vision
of where this is headed, or
where we’d like it to head.
My point is that Boyle’s wishlist is not just an individual’s vision, but is infact
archetypal of the desires of that era. Whether it was about wanting to live longer or
ﬂy. While today most of Boyle’s wishlist seems to have come true and some even
feel very mundane. But as I was going through this wishlist it made me think of this
statement by Kevin Kelly -
What would be on your Wishlist?
So I’d like to end with a question - what would be on your wishlist?
Sabbatical on Mars
TVs that hover next to you
Biodiverse Planet again
Friendly Alien parties
Picnics on the Moon
Could we use the power of the web and its participatory nature to create a heatmap
of wishes? A heatmap that might help us discover what the underlying aspirations of
people for the 21st century might be?
Could the power of the web guide us in creating a more democratic and desirable
www.superﬂux.in | Twitter: @Superﬂux
Special thanks to Nicolas Nova, LIFT organisers and Jon Ardern