Cyborgs Towards Utopia

Cyborgs Towards Utopia is a design-fiction experiment that incorporates speculative design and narrative methods in order to explore an unlikely theme: how technology can help make us more human.

Economic, societal and behavioural constructs have restricted the development of such technology in our reality. Therefore it was necessary to construct a parallel universe, Cytopia, to allow for positive critique and alternative proposals. By taking elements of the early humanistic principles of the internet and extrapolating onwards from a fictional schism in 1998 until the present day, a world similar to that of our own but with some key changes was created. This is summarised in the short film “Welcome to Cytopia”.

In this alternate world, technology helps us to be more human, rather than more efficient. Technological development is driven by creative, not market forces. In fact technology empowers optimistic thoughts, not hopeless anxiety. Miniaturisation has taken priority over processing power. Thus, designers have looked to nature, for example human-cells, to gain inspiration. Consequently, people have begun embodying technology, rather than using peripheral devices, to become true cyborgs.

After conceiving the principles of this world, Cy Rus developed a prototyping method known as Posthuman Design, blending conventional human-centred design methods with a parallel layer of design fiction. This process allowed for prototypes and fictional narrative to be developed simultaneously, informing one another to add richness. The development of this fictional narrative ultimately resulted in the publication of a short story entitled Cytopia.

During the research phase, beyond reading seminal works like Tomas More’s Utopia or Donna Harraway’s Cyborg Manifesto, Cy Rus identified and interviewed cyborgs, re-defined as beings who are “challenging the rigid notions of reality”. To expand the scope of research beyond cyborgs, Cy Rus designed a game known as Cards for Humanity, to provoke discussion on human differences from animals and indeed machines. From this research a broad range of areas for exploration were uncovered on the theme of what makes us human with three topics standing out: awareness, identity and attention.

With these topics in mind, using the fictional world of Cytopia allowed for an unconstrained exploration of how internet technology could adhere to utopian principles. Given the ubiquitous and not so calm age of technology in which we exist, the initial design communication of the project is through three digital service artefacts which belong to Cytopia, thus capable of existing in our world under different conditions.

An alt-economic system based on the concept of the attention economy. is net money for the key commodity traded online — attention. This decentralised currency gives citizens the ability to monetise their attention online through direct investment of attention, which like any type of investment may generate returns. The question it provokes is “Would you invest your attention in Kim Kardashian?”

2. BetaU
The early internet was full of gender-bending, creative monikers and multiple personas. Today’s world of identity policing on sites like Facebook means that exploration of identity online is reserved only for the most eccentric, queer and unorthodox. BetaU is a service that exists in Cytopia which helps people uncover hidden sides of themselves. Through the use of avatars, people may bring these identities to the superficial layer, available for use through augmented reality.

3. MetaCog
This is a device that promises to “Make your attention count”. When you consume media online, MetaCog works intelligently with your mind to understand what you are focusing on, measuring your attention level and allowing for the seamless investment of attention.

In order to develop these artefacts Cy Rus held workshops in the real world, transporting people to Cytopia using binaural recordings, sensory deprivation, physical relocation and role-play. Once transported to Cytopia, participants helped to refine and enhance prototypes, discuss the key themes and indeed find their own voice and space to speculate effectively on desirable alternatives to the norm.

As part of the Posthuman design method, these workshops were designed to help people speculate on complex themes and systems free from the constraints of reality using a non-solution oriented approach. At the end of an intense period of work, this project serves as a starting point in a continued exploration of how technology can make us more human, simultaneously using and developing a Posthuman design process; exploring what might have been to suggest what still might be.