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Exploring the Consequences of Self-Replicating Matter (screen shot from 'Consumed' by A. Wannersted)

Exploring the Consequences of Future Technology [Video]

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The short film ‘Consumed’ (discussed in this article) is a great example of a narrative genre termed Design Fiction. However its author/director Andreas Wannerstedt classifies it as Science Fiction. There’s a fine line between both terms, and we have in this case arguments for both. Science Fiction is difficult to define, but could be described according to science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein as

“realistic speculation about possible future events, based solidly on adequate knowledge of the real world, past and present, and on a thorough understanding of the nature and significance of the scientific method“.

The focus lies on the narrative, whereas the focus in Design Fiction, also known as Critical Design, lies on the projection of new concepts, products or services into the future, and the evaluation of their implications for humanity and the world as we know it. It can be used as a clever tool to explore a product’s consequences through the power of imagination. Science Fiction films often display prototypes of designs as Design Fiction elements, such as something that looks exactly like the first iPad in  ‘2001 – A Space Odyssey‘ in 1968.

In ‘Consumed’, the story is set ‘in a not so distant future’, when the world suffers from food and water shortages, as Andreas Wannerstedt explains on Vimeo: It “revolves around a “Food Replicator”, or a so called molecular assembler, a device that can rearrange subatomic particles and guide chemical reactions with atomic precision. In an attempt to prevent mass starvation, this device is used to synthesize nutritions with the ability to self-replicate. But during the initial tests something goes wrong and out-of-control self-replicating compounds starts to spread, consuming all matter while building more copies of them selves.” Wannerstedt references this scenario of self-replication to a scenario of the end of the world by molecular nanotechnology expert Eric Drexler involving out-of-control self-replicating machines in his book “Engines of Creation” from 1986, also known as ‘Grey Goo‘. Wannerstedt’s interpretation is inspired by Drexler’s scientific input and imagination.

Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion as production facility (screen shot from ‘Consumed’ by A. Wannersted)

As an architect I was at first surprised to find Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona pavilion featured in the animation, especially as the production location for the final tests on the Food Replicator. This seems odd at first, but makes more sense once one considers the fact how much such highly technologic interfaces have changed in recent years – and so has the necessity of using factory-like buildings to interact with technologic devices. In-home computation and production is only one example of this to some extent frightening yet also empowering movement.

As Andreas Wannerstedt puts it, “the required technologies to create this kind of self-replicating matter won’t be invented until.. hmm.. no sooner than 2014?”. As discussed before machines that are able to replicate themselves exist – although not in automated form. 3D printers like the RapMan can replicate their own most complex parts, which can be assembled by adding just a few standard parts. The control over these replication processes is however still down to the user.

Nevertheless, the 3D short film ‘Consumed’ is a fascinating piece to see and let the mind wander through the ramifications of future technology. For those inspired to make their own movie, Andreas Wannerstedt also has a making-of’ video with shots during the rendering process on his personal website.

Exploring the Consequences of Self-Replicating Matter (screen shot from ‘Consumed’ by A. Wannersted)

Related: Assimilation and Self-Replication – What the Borg, Nanites and Grey Goo Have in Common