In conjunction with each issue of St-W, we challenge emerging designers to answer a topical question with a future-forward design concept.
Sparked by media reports that robots are likely to replace half of all jobs over the next 20 years, for St-W 117 we commissioned five makers to desgin an item, tool, space or service that relates to the anticipated automation of tomorrow's workspace.
You’re putting a misunderstood microgranism under the microscope.
Yes. Bacteria has been a dirty word for a long time, despite the fact that less than one per cent of all bacteria have any impact on the human body. I would like to paint a picture of a ‘new organic’ world, where the cultivation and management of microbes will provide the sources of many of our basic energy, health and material needs.
What impact will this have on the workplace?
These developments will sit hand in hand with the way in which the connected, ‘always-on’, world is already changing the way we work. As I see automation eroding a lot of mid and low level jobs, I created three examples of professions that would be immune to this.
What are they?
The first is a plumber who maintains the bacterial cultures that service your home. She monitors the microbial-bio digester which converts organic matter into fuel, the algae on the roof that covert solar energy to bio-mass, the winter moulds on the outside of the building which provide insulation during colder months, and the microbiological water filter.
A producer specialized in growing a material similar to today’s plywood for use in the building industry. He grows in a matter of weeks what previously took trees 40 years. Rather than shipping and distributing pallets full of material all across the world, just a handful of spores can be delivered directly to site where they can then be grown in to the shape that they are required.
And last but not least?
A dietician. It has long been known that cultures such as candida can affect our mood and energy levels, but we now also know that the bacteria in our gut can influence our chances of developing Alzheimer's disease. The dietician is fully aware of the delicate eco-system that we all carry around in our bodies and sells weekly samples of her gut flora to wealthy clients who wish to live more indulgent lives but don’t want to pay the microbial price.
Doesn’t this raise some issues around privacy and ethics?
Yes. The dietician would have to lead a very strict lifestyle but these privations would be balanced by being able to devote herself to her own wellbeing and get paid for it. In some ways this is similar to the trade-off we make when using a free app that sells our data: we are trading off a certain amount of privacy for whatever benefits we think the app gives us.