Our scenario visualisation of 2050 forecasts the seamless integration of nanotechnology into human biological systems – life becomes smooth, personalised and unhindered. The physicality of technology is no longer felt. Having progressed exponentially since the Great Acceleration, will the alteration of our biological make up and its associated processes be accepted as naturally as our gravitation to exogenous technological extensions of self (smart devices)? Kurzweil argues that we underestimate the speed of science, and developments in the 35 years to come cannot be measured by developments made 35 years into the past. (2005) With scientific impetus in artificially manipulating the molecular structures of our body, it becomes a reality that objects of the future could be woven into the very fabric of our being.
Lucy McRae, a body architect and artist based in Amsterdam, explores this theme in her work Swallowable Parfum (2011b). In this speculative piece, she collaborates with Sharef Mansy, an Italian synthetic biologist, to develop an oral cosmetic pill that when taken, mimics fat cells in the body. As the body’s enzymes work to break down these cells, fragrance is released during perspiration – the fragrance “acclimatising to temperatures; to [the] stress, exercise or sexual arousal” (McRae 2011a) of the individual. This concept is both compelling and unnerving. Removed from its laboratory setting, Swallowable Parfum® is presented as a desirable and even beautiful object.
Propose an object that, instead of altering our fragrance, could alter the wiring of our brains. As a design collective, we acknowledge the brain as the most valuable asset to a human, but simultaneously, it has the potential to degrade or fault. Quality of life is inherently linked to the health of our brain – housing knowledge, memory and emotion. It is not immutable or hardwired, but modifies in response to external and internal stimuli. (Begley 2007) Neuroplasticity highlights the ability for neurons to reorganise, with over 10,000 synapses existing between neurons at any given time. (McKay 2015) If we could induce plasticity for those who are unable to realign or maintain neural connections, the result would be a perfect brain, maximising the capacity to harbour increasingly satisfactory lives.
In Natasha Vita-More’s Primo Posthuman (2002), the body becomes a biotechnological being that excels in functionality. It is able to repair errors in genes and morphs to suit our individual preferences of physical appearance and aptitude. We turn into undetectable cyborgs under a sheath of solar protected skin. It may seem idealistic, but Kurzweil maintains that such speculations are necessary. As we further understand “the software programs that make our body run,” (2006) a desire to alter these programs emerges.
With growing studies in electroencephalography and transcranial magnetic stimulation, future brains may be corrected through electronic means or through engineered bio-matter simulating neurological operations. It could take shape as an exterior entity or an entity that embeds itself within us, reading and reciprocating to our physiological structures. Imaginably, we no longer fall victim to natural selection – instead, we harness the capability to artificially control our cellular flaws.
Begley, S. 2007, ‘The brain: how the brain rewires itself,’ Time Magazine, 19 January, viewed 25 October 2015, <http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1580438,00.html>.
Kurzweil, R. 2005, The singularity is near: when humans transcend biology, Viking Press, New York.
Kurzweil, R. 2006, The accelerating power of technology, transcript, viewed 23 October 2015, <http://www.ted.com/talks/ray_kurzweil_on_how_technology_will_transform_us/transcript>.
McKay, S. 2015, ‘Neuroplasticity: can you rewire your brain?,’ Active Memory, 6 March, viewed 24 October 2015, <https://www.activememory.com/news/2015/neuroplasticity-can-you-rewire-your-brain>.
McRae, L. 2011a, Swallowable Parfum, viewed 24 October 2015, <http://www.lucymcrae.net/swallowable-parfum/>.
McRae, L. 2011b, Lucy McRae – Swallowable Parfum, videorecording, Youtube, viewed 15 October 2015, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FtppW5Yp660>.
Vita-More, N. 2002, ‘Radical body design: Primo Posthuman,’ Kurzweil | Essays, 25 February, viewed 24 October 2015, <http://www.kurzweilai.net/radical-body-design-primo-posthuman>.
Hoad, D., Liou, L. & Ruge, D. 2012, ‘Improving the potential of neuroplasticity,’ The Journal of Neuroscience, vol. 32, no. 17, pp. 5705-5706.