The Darwin Kit
Mentor: Cindy Poremba
4 weeks | 2020
EXPERIMENTS WITH WEARABLES
Adafruit Circuit Playground Express | Fabrication| Wearables | Processing
The Darwin Kit, is a speculative artefact, an “at-home DNA self-editing kit”. Using the diegetic space of Speculative Ethics based on Dunne & Raby's 'Speculative Everything', the approach through the making was to explore the future technology of self-editing one's DNA and creating a space where it was introduced in the world. In the possible future, the Darwin Kit can be bought from gene-mapping companies.
With this From the Future object, the experience designed is for the participant to wear the disc and start the process on the tablet which guides them through a fictitious DNA editing interface. The designed artefact has a disc-wearable with an Adafruit CPX that is used to start a Processing sketch as shown in the tablet.
/ THE POSSIBLE FUTURE
In the Speculative Everything “the idea of possible futures is described as a tool to better understand the present and to discuss the kind of future people want, and, of course, one's people do not want.” As Dunne & Raby put it, “Design speculations can act as a catalyst for collectively redefining our relationship to reality”. It is this relationship between the body and the technology that I wish to speculate upon through the research.
What if CRISPR, a genetic editing technology, is democratized and made available to people at-home so as empowering them to alter their DNA, cure diseases and take control of their genetic data?
/ THE NARRATIVE
Sonia was in a meeting intensely talking about the new AI-based legal assistant, when her watch buzzed.
Message from Home Hub –
“Hey, your Darwin Kit has arrived.”
The tech enthusiast that she was; she had been waiting to use the kit since its launch two months ago at CES 2060 in Las Vegas. Sonia was amongst the first 50 people at the Consumer Electronics Show to pre-order the kit from the popular personal genomics and biotechnology company, 23andMe.
The Darwin Kit is an FDA approved CRISPR technology-based kit that enables people to edit their own DNA, at home, from the 7 new DNA enhancement features they have launched. The first clinical trial for a CRISPR cancer treatment on human patients was approved in 2016 in the US. But unfortunately over the next 5 years many biohackers had overused the technology in home labs, unregulated and there were over 50 causalities. The FDA with the support of WHO, had intervened and imprisoned the illegal dealers of the CRISPR equipment. CRISPR was limited to the lab for the next thirty years, until Sonia’s firm fought the first case for democratisation of the CRISPR technology. It was through her team’s efforts that 23andMe had just launched the first clinically approved kit. All consumers who have their DNA data saved in the DNA-Drive of the company could order custom kits for
editing their own DNA. It was reduced to a simple add and delete function now with the support of powerful computing, miniaturized electronics and AI to guide with error-free
Sonia quickly wrapped up the meeting and hopped into her car, excited to reach home. Once home she unveiled the Darwin kit. There was palm size disc-like wearable that she had to wear on her arm. She logged into the Darwin application and was being guided by the application.
The kit offers 7 features:
Covid-50 genetic vaccine
HIV 3.0 genetic vaccine
Vision 6/6.N power correction and night vision
Doppler++ enhanced Hearing
Melaα skin resistant to +50°C
Alveoli54 enhanced O2 alveoli54
Collagen+ for wrinkle-free skin
The Darwin disc has all the 7 solution cartridges preloaded but they have to be used at a six-month gap, with regular health check-ups every month.
Sonia remembered the grey-eyed founder, Ben, she had met at CES. He had his vision corrected to 6/6 and had enhanced night vision, and was now both flying with a private license and hiking through night trails. Sonia’s client and the brains behind the kit, Dr. Joanne had added the Covid-50 gene to her DNA so she could easily travel to Europe and not bother with the flu that was prevalent for the last 2 years in the
continent. She also remembered the actress Zoya, who had shared the whole process of getting a wrinkled free skin with the Darwin kit on Instagram live. Sonia was in deep wonder about which feature to add. She wore the Darwin kit and pondered when she was shaken by an urgent notification from the office.
The space travel company founder Kim’s Manager had barged into her firm, screaming to sue the Darwin Kit. Kim had added the Doppler++ gene to enhance his hearing for his space travel to Mars due September and was just admitted with a brain haemorrhage. Sonia shocked by the news was added into a video conference and aborted the Darwin program.
Throughout the meeting, the corner of her eye was focussed on the Darwin Kit sitting at her desk. The video call lasted for about two hours. Home Hub had already ordered her dinner. Sonia took her dinner and scrambled into her bed, tired after the long day. She took a deep breath and clicked ‘Launch’. With the TV chattering in the background, there in the dark was a small pink glow on her arm and Sonia deep asleep.
/ CHOICE OF INTERACTIONS
The interactions are broken down into:
The Website (Online service to order the kits)
The Kit (the object and the application that guides the user)
The Narrative (for the future scenario)
The Kit, wearables was prototyped using Adafruit Circuit playground express and serial communication with Processing, in which I coded the application and the interactive screens.
/ CHOICE OF AESTHETICS
All the faces of people here are AI styleGAN generated from the website-www.thisfacedoesnotexit.com
These are not real people but AI-generated. I used them to add to the technological progress so far and to add to the surreal nature of the From the Future project.
The faces are also from the future and could or could not ever be possible based on the large permutations possible in the human genome. I used a similar brand style as that of existing genomics to show the access point and the connection to this object and service.
/ THE WEBSITE
I took inspiration from existing gene-mapping companies like 23andme and Ancestry.
The intention was to offer a platform to purchase the kit and make an 'access point' to the speculative fiction believable.
/ SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE
I researched the process of CRISPR editing and discovered that it has to be a solution injected into the body. I research on miniaturized electronics and detailed the object and the kit.
“Everything You Need To Know About Crispr Gene Editing.” Wired. www.wired.com, https://www.wired.com/story/wired-guide-to-crispr/. Accessed 9 Apr. 2020.
Genetic Engineering Will Change Everything Forever – CRISPR. YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jAhjPd4uNFY. Accessed 16 Apr. 2020.
“The CRISPR Revolution.” NPR.Org. www.npr.org, https://www.npr.org/series/773368439/the-crispr-revolution. Accessed 16 Apr. 2020.
Pataranutaporn, Pat, et al. “Wearable Lab on Body: Combining Sensing of Biochemical and Digital Markers in a Wearable Device.” 2019 41st Annual International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (EMBC), IEEE, 2019, pp. 3327–32. DOI.org (Crossref), doi:10.1109/EMBC.2019.8857479.
/ THE KIT: Wearable object
The intention with the wearable was to create the physical contact with the body that such a technology will have and the application was to link it to a digital artefact so to make the user experience the technological interaction.
/ THE KIT: Application Interface
I took inspiration from gene data sets with long columns of running data streams. There is the Launch Screen followed by the Feature screen, where the user chooses which edit to make to inject the CRISPR solution and then is the animated screen that runs while the injection process runs to give the user an indication to lay back, watch and wait.
My methodology has evolved through an iterative process of working on the project. I used the Thing from the Future card toolkit, Situation Lab to narrow down to 2 objects: one a wearable concept and another an interactive kit/service concept.
I also wanted to explore future space where design, will have to collaborate with science, health, technology and computation, with an intent to add to the discourse on human gene editing and the socio-cultural impact of it in the possible future. The approach of codesign was adopted from Sander & Stappers methodology where designers engage in making for unidentified opportunity through prototyping, scenarios and storyboarding.
Through developing future scenarios and the prototyping the future context I am able to place the object in a diegetic space of speculative ethics, Speculative Everything, where the object is part of a genetic technology service from the future. Also, I am using the illustration of the PPPP Futures, as a grid to place the project and build the narrative around it.
“The role of the expert is often, not to prevent the impossible but to make it acceptable.”
- David Kirby, Lab Coats in Hollywood
Their fictional nature requires viewers to suspend their disbelief and allow their imaginations to wander, to momentarily forget how things are now, and wonder about how things could be in the context of self-editing ones DNA like we edit our digital information.
Speculative Object positioning
I am deriving the object from the 2060s, fifty years down the scientific research timeline, which had been accelerated by Biohackers and made available to the user for at-home gene self-editing.
The object doesn’t emphasize a topia but creates an experience for the user to then speculate what the possible future of this object could be?
Starting the narrative in 2020 the user is already exposed to home healthcare kits, mobile applications, wearables for health tracking and is actively using them in ones daily life.
Using the Diegetic space of Speculative Ethics based on Speculative Everything, the approach through the making was to explore the future technology of self-editing one's DNA and creating a space where it was introduced in the world as any other technological innovation.
With a silicon-valley vision like online service and an application that makes the Darwin kit, much like pre-ordering the newly launched iPhone, and making it a part of one's life.
The narrative at the start was important for me to contextualize the persona of the user, the context and bring out the ethical premise overshadowing the technology.
/ FUTURE SCOPE
The next steps for the project would be two fold:
Make a robust experience prototype to be used for interaction
Making the experience available to users and getting feedback, opinions and engaging in a discourse on the subject.
With continued work, I could fabricate the object to scale and have a live website to share with people. The website could serve as an online prototype that I could share in these times of social-distancing and get responses.
P.S. The exhibition and interaction with the users were could not be carried out due to COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.