At the core of the challenge we face is the inevitable uncertainty of dynamic combination human-natural systems. Rapid modifications of biophysical systems have the potential to trigger regime shifts —abrupt and irreversible changes—that will have significant consequences. It is clear that the likelihood of regime shifts is higher in ecosystems where humans have reduced resilience by modifying biogeochemical cycles, altering hydrological regimes, reducing biodiversity, and changing the magnitude, frequency, and duration of disturbance regimes. We know these are hard problems to solve, but they are by no means impossible. A new understanding of our relationship to the natural and designed world is imminent, the implications are profound, and will shape our appreciation of humanity and influence the world around us.
Technology has been involved in every aspect to break out of the constraints of normal biological laws. We are extremely clever when it comes to local-scale and tractable problem solving, motivated by the internal biological mandate to expand biomass and acquisition of resources, especially exosomatic energy. The idea of using this cleverness to create a vibrant, organic habitat is an increasingly realistic prospect as living technologies are now being designed to counter the ravages of global industrialization.
I have the opportunity to spend time with amazing people. These include everything from researchers, educators, students, working in basic science laboratories looking for nature’s recipes, to architects working on projects collaborating directly with engineers, and the never ending flow of creative students who keep willingly signing up for my design thinking experiments.
An alternative technology is available to us, which we have barely begun to apply in its full potential. More agile infrastructure and design for cities by creating modular, small-scale infrastructures to deal with processing vital substances. Biology, ecology, disciplines that can influence design projects in unexpected and interesting ways. How biological and ecological conditions have influenced the evolution of behavioral and physiological traits of animals can inform and inspire fields such as design and architecture. When nature is associated with a condition of abundance, rather than careful conservation, then how may it be possible in resource-constrained environments to create this kind of excess? Our resource challenge is not about the absolute amount of stuff available for us to make things with but of discovering new ways to access and engage with resources.
Nature provides a rich portfolio of, sometimes unlikely, living technologies that may shape our near-future lifestyles in new ways. Living technologies have unique properties that may enable us to imagine and realize our urban spaces in new ways since they are adaptable, robust and have an incredible ability to transform one thing into another. We will begin to tap into the technological potential of this ‘metabolic’ diversity, using the techniques of synthetic biology and strategically use it within the fabric of our cities. Particularly influential in precipitating a new kind of scientific approach suggesting unification of the sciences as a common goal through converging NBIC (Nano, Bio, Info, Cogno) technologies with a brief to greatly benefit humanity and industry. Hybrid scientific disciplines are emerging from these fertile environments of shared ideas. These condensations and fusions of approaches are leading towards the discovery of new ways of underpinning human development through design and the built environment. Building community, extending the envelope of possibility is part of creating narratives and visions that will need to go beyond today, and tomorrow and is shared by the next generation of designers, developers, engineers.
The magic of our reality is not that absolutely anything is possible – but that there is a great deal of untapped potential that already exists. The developments in living technology suggest that we will evolve solutions using the transformational properties of natural systems. Living technologies build upon traditional skills working in combination with new scientific knowledge. Streamline human development with biospherical processes so that our lifestyles are more sustainable, less environmentally disruptive and ultimately means that our cities are better places to live.