Emilia Tikka


Zoëmachines | Master 2017

What is the fundamental difference between a non-living machine such as computer and a living organism such as an animal? Even if this distinction might seem to be obvious, the clear-cut borderline between “machine” and “living organism” has been recently blurred by the emerging field of synthetic biology. (Deplazes & Huppenbauer, the University of Zurich) By claiming to build “living machines” and “synthetic organisms” constructed from living matter through digital code, synthetic biologists are trying to harness bacteria to produce new materials, medicine, fuel etc. Are new categories needed for these hybrid materials and entities that fall in between the classical distinction between living and non-living, machine and living organism?

How should design engage with the phenomena of synthetic biology and these new categories of living things? This project aims to raise questions about synthetic biology and it`s implications with the method of speculative and critical design. Instead of proposing utopias or dystopias the project aims to unpack the societal, political and philosophical implications of this phenomena.

Could the basic functions of life such as metabolism, energy production, an ability to adapt to environment and to reproduce, be harnessed as design applications, as designer Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg suggests. If these designed “living machines” would become reality, what would be their impact on us from the scale of individual interactions to environments and ecosystems? How would these living design objects leave their tracks on evolution like all the other living things do?