When new technologies emerge, their ethical, cultural, social, and political impacts are unknown. However, Speculative Design can help us to look into the possible impacts by debating potential consequences through discussion and provocation.
For the Speculative Design class of 2020, our 1st-year students teamed up with EKA’s Product Design BA 3rd-year students to rethink the future of retirement in 2050. The 3 weeks long course was held in partnership with Foresight Centre of the Estonian Parliament.
The teams found their own directions within the future of retirement and narrated their directions. Their narratives were supported with artifacts to build provocation and discussion on the speculated futures.
What if the Elderly Could Become Medical Suppliers?
What if in 2050, the elderly could sell their organ functions to feel more connected to the society and to feel useful?
Francesco and Kätlin focused on economical and healthcare aspects of retirement and started their project with trend analysis to understand the social, technological, ecological, economic, and political trends that might be related to their focus. They have realized that because of the aging population in 2050, the health-care system might collapse by 2050. Causing a lowering in the pensions.
They have embodied the elderly of 2050 with a fictional character called Marju. She is a former cleaning lady, who lost her job because, in 2050, cleaning is no longer a human’s profession but a robot’s. She is feeling useless and wouldn’t like to cut out of society. Although she is good with technology, she is unable to keep up with the rapidly emerging technologies:
“I was one of the first in my company to have a chip in my hand to open the company car.”
The design fiction that they have narrated is around elderly values in a society of an aging Estonia. Although enabling the elderly into medical suppliers sounds like a dystopia, it is still part of our possible futures. Together with the negative consequences, this scenario has also benefits for the elderly such as giving the elderly a new role in society, feeling less lonely, and having an opportunity to contribute to the family economy. The design fiction starts discussions around elderly values in aging Estonia, while being provocative.
What if the Way We Eat Will Become the Main Reason for Stratification in Society?
What if in 2050, our food will be indicators of our health and wealth causing a polarization in the society?
Dan and Hanna started by focusing on the basic needs of the elderly in 2050. They talked to people to gather insights on what could be the elderly’s basic needs in 2050. After their investigation, they have found out that one of our possible futures is the one where there is no such thing as retirement and where the basic needs are covered by the government through a service support system.
They have speculated a future where we live in a society where polarization is really high between the poor and rich. Technology for food making has developed rapidly and rich mostly eat artificial food. The soil has little quality for growing food. This is why the poor mostly grow potatoes for survival. We had an economical collapse, so the government was rebuilt to maintain stability. With the rapidly emerging technologies, there are many new professions for the elderly to integrate into society such as AI trainers, AI supervisors, and Smart Farmers. Politics are focused on citizens’ well-being more than the economy, governments are supporting the elderly in their new professions instead of paying pensions.
The what-if question guided them to speculate in 2050. They have placed their what-if question in the center of a futures wheel diagram, a methodology for identifying the potential consequences of an event. First, they have thought of the direct consequences of their scenario and then moved on to the indirect consequences. In the end, they have obtained a web-like map of the implications of a future scenario.
With the help of their findings, the team narrated a design fiction scenario in the form of a diary. Diary of Mattias — a smart farmer who wants to create superfood for the poor to decrease the stratification in society. His business is supported by the government. He does not get any pension but gets support from the government to deliver his creations to the poor:
Together with their narrative, the team also designed a potato look-alike object which had Pomelo fruit inside. It was Mattias’s (their fictional character) failed production. The artifact was cut open during the presentations to bring the audience to the speculated 2050. The artifact being multisensory, helped the audience to build emotional connections and start discussions around their narrative.
What if VR Would Become the Main Medium of Communication in 2050?
Virtual Reality will most likely play a very important role in the future of communication and our way of interacting with our world. What if by 2050, VR becomes the main medium of communication?
Carol, Jekaterina, and Mihkel talked with VR experts together with the future elderlies of 2050 and the current elderlies of 2020. After their investigation, they have realized in a future where VR will become very accessible and affordable; an opposition to technology will arise. Technology escape points such as physical spaces will be built to enable humans to escape technology.
After their exploration, the team speculated a future where the main communication medium becomes VR and people start spending so much time in VR that, they will need reminders of the real world: A vest that goes together with VR glasses, which is made of smart textiles to remind us of which reality we are at “virtual reality” or “the real world”? Together with the vest, they have created a design fiction narrative of their fictional character Greta, who lives in Kalamaja alone with her dog Lilly.
The design fiction narrative showcases the possible problems of a future where VR spreads out to our daily lives as communication devices. Humans will need spaces to escape technology and will need reminders of the real world to recall the virtuality that we are situated in.
The teams were mentored by Nesli Hazal Akbulut (IxD.ma) in partnership with Johanna Vallistu (Foresight Centre).