Design Fiction: More Ammunition

Design Fiction Rationale #24

There are a number of good reasons to practice design fiction. A few:

  • It’s the foresight side of design thinking.
  • It generates ideas free of constraints like, “How many can we sell?”
  • It helps foster an appreciation for the interdependency of things. 

And then there are provocations about the implications of creating any design, it’s affect on society, on behavior, on other things.

I have already written about this in my MFA thesis, When Designers Ask, “What If?”, and more or less predicted it, but as it has been widely reported over the last couple of weeks, a 3D printer has produced a gun that has been successfully printed and fired. In a web article, this quote fell out:

“An undetectable firearm constructed on your computer may sound like science fiction, but unfortunately, it’s already here and our laws have never contemplated this scenario,” D.C. City Council member Tommy Wells, who introduced the legislation, said in a press release. “These weapons create a significant and immediate threat to public safety.”

I hate break it to the D.C. City Council, but laws do not contemplate anything and more often than not, laws are created to fix problems that people never contemplated. So, now we have a new problem that city councils all over U.S. will have to create laws for and governments will have to regulate.

Roll your own. Source: The Sun
Roll your own. Source: ibitimes

But let’s face it, the cat is out of the bag. You can make it against the law to do anything, which works for the wide majority of people, except outlaws, terrorists, and loose-cannon regimes.

Did anyone think about potential ramifications of a home 3D printer in the hands of a bad person? Perhaps, but as is often the case these “black cloud” scenarios are usually brushed off with the positive outweighs the negative types of comments. There’s heavy pressure for progress and precautionary types are dismissed as “Debbie Downers.” I think we build things because we can, and then think about it later.

We like to think that technology will save us, save us from destruction, from cancer, from obesity, from boredom, from death. Some folks are holding out for it. But there is always a downside, like with Uranium gone missing, or texting while driving, bovine growth hormone. In the future it may be that our perfect selves along with a 24/7 virtual fantasy in our heads will become … boring. Then there’s that death thing. What could be wrong with scientists and artists and loving wonderful people that live forever? Except, of course, for the people that aren’t so wonderful or just plain evil.

And that’s one way we can use design fiction, with our diegetic prototypes to suspend disbelief about change, so that people can look at the possible future with this new thing or that new thing and maybe take extra time to think about the downside. Like Bruce Sterling says, “It’s important to explicitly acknowledge the drawbacks of any technological transformation—to “think the underside first,” to think in a precautionary way” (Sterling, Shaping Things, 2006:12).

Maybe the bigger question is this: If we knew then what we know now, would anything have changed? Are we even capable of stopping ourselves from building, or injecting, or releasing the next big thing because of those few minor, potential mishaps? Should we? After all, surely we can find some technology to prevent the downside from even happening.

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2 thoughts on “Design Fiction: More Ammunition”

  1. Hi Scott.

    I came across your blog whilst doing some research on design fiction.

    I think you make several very valid points in your post, and in particular it’s nice to see someone acknowledge the negative, as well as positive, potential of technology developments. I think some people are so “positivist” about the future and technology that they forget the lessons of history and the past about how innovation can be a two-edged sword.

    It’s an issue that I’ve explored before in my own blog, Futurz, which looks at the connection between science fiction and technology development (hence my interest in design fiction). Here’s a post I wrote a while back: http://connexzones.com/smallworld/2011/03/dont-be-evil/

    I’m kind of mind blown that you’re also using the WordPress Piano Black theme. I thought it was a cool theme, but I’m not a designer so I couldn’t be sure. It’s nice then seeing someone in the design arena using it too, which means it must be pretty OK.

    Herb

    1. Great to see more dialog (or at least web-log) on design fiction. If you dig back into my archives you may find some other interesting links for your research. As for PianoBlack, it was nice to find an out-of-the-box theme that did’t offend my design sensibilities in some way. And since I know very little about css, that is a good thing.

      If you haven’t read it yet, I recommend the book I discuss in this blog entry, The Techno Human Condition. http://theenvisionist.com/?p=472

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