On August 2017, I run a workshop to think about the future of DNA/ Bio-computing and human-computer interaction for a design workshop at the Center for Science and the Imagination, Arizona State University. The goal of the workshop is to brainstorm and speculate on how might DNA/ Biocomputing take form in the future?” by imagining the design, its interaction with human, and ethical/social implications. In total, 6 participants were engaging in 2 hours workshop which is divided into six sessions. The workshop started with the introduction to DNA/ Bio-computing and HCI, following by iterative design task (10 minutes), where each participant came up with “what if” questions on post-it notes, sketched a corresponding visual prototype on the paper, and shared his/her idea. Then participants were tasked with a design reflection activity (20 min) to explore and map out the potential interactions between human and his/her design solutions. The workshop concluded by having participants sharing his/her vision of DNA/ Bio-computing and thought about the workshop.
The results of the workshop are profound. Participants came up with variety of design regard to DNA/Bio-computing, which deal with spectrum of issues from advertisement, to regulation, and religious.
Participant #1 was interested in the possibility of DNA computing in solving difficult computational problem, and speculate on how it might allow human to discover “the true name of God” (attributed to The Nine Billion Names of God science fiction short story by Arthur C. Clarke, 1953). Participant #1 picked up the theme of biotechnology and religious by designing “DNA Cathedral,” where people enter the building to participate in DNA based religious activity. Participant #1 imagines the high priest in the “DNA Cathedral” to collected every member’s genetics materials, remix all of them together, and distribute it back as sacred genetics identity.
Participant #2 picked up the idea of DNA identity as musical identity, and speculate on how might that notion change the way humans think about their identity. Participant #2 sketched a scenario where people attend musical concert to listen to the musician, who does not play the musical instrument, but instead had a special DNA sequence, which produces a uniquely pleasant music. Participant #2 also speculate further on how might that influence people to modify their genetics identity to produce a unique music by sketching comic strips that show the conversation between two friends discussing whether they should do gene editing to produce better DNA music or not.
Participant #3 was speculating around the idea of targeted advertisement based on genomic data, and the right of parents on modifying their children’s genetics make up. Participant #3 created a mock advertisement, where a fictional character tries to pitch a genomic enhancement product to parents to use for their child.
Participant #4 also picked up on the same theme of commercialization of the genomic data, but was focusing on regulation. Participant #4 imagine a government regulation that prohibits private company to use genetics information for commercialization. However, participant #4 also points out the possibility that giant tech company would eventually get over this challenge by trying to guest and reconstruct people’s genomic information base on other digital footprint.
Participant #5 was interested in the idea of DNA copy right, and connect it with the concept of bioweapon. Participant #5 speculated on how might a military organization design a DNA that can convert the entire city into a super soldier by sketching how might those super soldiers look like.
Participant #6 picked up the theme of equality by speculating on the design of medical and healthcare system. Participant #6 imagined that the decentralization of DNA/ Biocomputing will allow the patient to share genetic components that are helpful to them and to one another, allowing healthcare to be much more affordable. Participant #6 also thought about the future where healthcare diagnostic device is always embedded in the patient body without requesting.
In conclusion, the result of the workshop was diverse regarding topics, narrative, and technique of presentation. However, they all demonstrated creative visions for the future of DNA/ Bio-computing, and many designs surprised the organizer of the workshop by exploring the area that seems unrelated to DNA/ Bio-computing. Some design is more scientifically grounded, and some are more of a long term speculation on the technology. One observation from the participant is that most of the design is considered to be in the dystopian narrative, where the technology creates controversial ethical and moral issues, which can be understood by looking at the general trend of science fiction narrative.
The limitation of the workshop beyond time constrained is the question of how much information should be given to the participant intern of DNA/ Bio-computing? If the definition of “DNA/ Bio-computing” is height restricted, and the participants are asked to only think in the direction that is heavily supported by modern-day sciences, the results of the workshop may not be as exciting as it is now. One the other hand, if the definition is too loose, then the results of the workshop world become closer to fantasy where everything is possible without any grounded logic, which may not be as impressive either. The challenge of balancing the scope of the workshop is, therefore, a great topic to be improved upon.
Finally, this workshop demonstrates many promising applications. First, the science/technology researcher in academia, private entities, or government can use this kind of workshop to explore unimagined applications of the technology that they want to develop, or using this workshop to understand the societal concerns of the technology. Secondly, teachers and professors can use this kind of technology as an exercise for student to stretch their imagination and connect the knowledge that they have learned to design the futures. Finally, people that work in entertainment industry can use this kind of workshop to develop narrative. By using this process, it is possible to co-create a science fiction narrative that reflects the public imagination, which potentially allows the show to be relatable and meaningful.