Thoughts on creativity, theming, and the future in a world defined by artificial human reproduction.
Halt! Before we get in to the designer notes, please take a moment to read the source material — our amazing dxfutures writer and professional futurist Alexandra Whittington will blow you away with her unique vision of a world where humanity harnesses the generative power of nature.
Good! Now that your mind is mush, let’s start. First, I just want to say how excited I am to have this piece be part of our collection. At the core is a very personal conflict, a character on the precipice of questioning her given world-view and coming to terms with realities that challenge it. We want to inspire discussion about reproductive technologies, CRISPR, artificial wombs, and the like — so we can consciously decide the future we want to co-create.
Working with Alexandra was a joy — and I am so happy to have been a part of this process and to be a part of getting her unique vision out there. Although everyone should be in on this discussion, it is essential that prominent voices come from those most effected by this new future. In our hyper gender-roled society, reproductive advancements will impact women the greatest. So the most important task for me was to ask questions and be open — which of course, is the most fun part of the process anyway!
So exactly how did we tackle the conceptual design for this bold world?
I’m going to get deep with an analogy for a moment. In the run-up to this project I have been thinking a lot about the creative process. At what point is our work original or artificial? What makes it special or gives it a “soul”? Does it have to be traditional to be valued? There have been debates about exclusion in the artist community (Google “Inktober contraversy” for a good example) and I have personally questioned the work of artists who use algorithms or programs to iterate. What is the future of the creative industry if more and more of the output is reliant on artificial means? When concept artists run a program that randomly generate 3D models given seed data or parameters, is this work still belong wholly to the artist? Or is it the machine we should revere?
In the end, I came to a tentative conclusion. Human history has been about evolving with our environment, not in a vacuum. We create tools and they empower us and expand our capabilities. If an artist suffers from a neurological condition that prevents them from being able to hold a traditional brush steady, they can “ink” on a computer instead. And when Scott Robertson decides the seeds of an algorithm, chooses the colors and the process — is it not the same as the first artists who chose which berries to crush for pigment? Who learned to control the way the bristles hit the page?
Basically, if we are to create a better future we must have some humility about it. We create with the universe, we don’t stand a part from it. In fact, that thought is perhaps the most artificial.
Recap: Are artificial wombs like artificial creative tools? Definitely maybe.
So let’s get to the good stuff. When Alexandra and I iterated on the story concept I immediately envisioned a world defined by the aesthetic of a womb. Soft, circular, luminescent translucency — and early on she mentioned she wanted the device to be called “Lotus.” Perfect! The Lotus is the highest symbol of fertility in the Hindu culture — divine purity, spiritual awakening, and the soul. And the implications of the human soul and value inherent in artificially incubated humans are a strong thread in this piece.
The initial concepts focused on the artificial womb itself — the Lotus began it’s life as an egg, layered with a selectively permeable sheath and tethered in various ways to sources of nutrition and filtering mechanisms. Unfolding as the fetus went through the various stages in the process of “birth.”
Mechanically, we took inspiration from the real-world NICU incubators and the artificial womb’s designed for lamb fetuses. Of course, our design had to also look nice in a futuristic living space — as this technology progresses, we saw it reforming the way we connect with our growing children. A prominent and beautiful artifact to display in the home.
In the end, the egg shape and more complicated mechanisms molted away as the design refined itself to reinforce the idea of artificiality and perfection. The fundamental shape design language of benevolence, safety, and softness is the circle. The Lotus became a perfect sphere with elegant tethers — delicate but strong.
The colors reflected the pastels so often associated with infancy — drawing upon the hue of the Lotus.
To extend the theme — the artificial womb’s design was reflected in the world itself. In some ways, modern University culture extends adolescence already, and anyone who knows a “golden spoon” kid can see what happens when a child never truly has to go on their journey into adulthood, but we wanted to show how this world pushes that to the extreme.
Men and women never grow up- they travel around in encapsulated autonomous wombs, go to work in concentric and enveloping studio spaces, and automation pumps their nutrients, entertainment, and other necessities in and out without thought.
Are we okay with a world like this? Would it stall our progress or would it prop us up to explore deeper?
We need to have these conversations now. They are hard topics, topics that tug at our fundamental beliefs and our judgement of the world as it should be. The future of genetics, and themes explored in this story, will play out either consciously or unconsciously. It is up to us to reflect and decide — or neglect and face the consequences, good or bad.
If you found this story interesting and would like to discuss how we can explore the future together, let us know!