Three sci-fi designs for the future of farming
In Three Propositions for Future Farming, design graduate Kaitlyn Schwalje has imagined objects to explore three scenarios for what farming might be like in 2115.
“We’re actually kinda really terrible at guessing what the future is going to be like,” says Kaitlyn Schwalje. Schwalje is a recent graduate of the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design who, for her graduating thesis project, is making her own best guess at the future by envisioning what farming might be like a century down the road.
In Three Propositions for Future Farming, Schwalje designed objects to explore three scenarios for what farming might be like in 2115, when bioterrorism and weather manipulation are commonplace.
The three objects, Gene Gun Hack, Aurel Insecticide and Precision Weather Modification Device aren’t real (they’re non-working prototypes), but they are rooted in reality. The Aurel Insecticide device, for example, is based on a study from the University of Missouri, which found that certain plants respond to the sound vibrations caterpillars make when eating by amping up defence mechanisms. This inspired Schwalje to design an omni-directional speaker that pipes out an aural insecticide in order to stimulate plant defences. The speaker would be positioned at crop level, and farmers could activate a library of sounds (depending on the insect) in anticipation of an infestation. No chemicals necessary.
The Precision Weather Modification Device echos Beijing’s effort to control the weather during the 2008 Summer Olympics ceremony, which used rockets and shells filled with silver iodide to break up clouds heading towards the city and direct them to areas outside of Beijing. Schwalje envisions her device will be purchased by farmers and corporations who, facing increasing droughts and shortening food supply, will be able to target specific locations with rain.
Schwalje’s Gene Gun Hack is more ominous. Taking inspiration from Phragmites australis, an invasive weed that poisons the soil around it, the designer imagines a time when bioterrorists are able to hack genetic modification guns to do agricultural harm. “Injecting the gene marker to a targeted few plant hosts within a crop fields begins a systematic devastation of the field,” she explains.
The three speculative scenarios are just that — totally hypothetical. In actuality, they’ll never manifest, at least not precisely as Schwalje presents them. But that’s not the point. Schwalje’s scenarios don’t paint the futures as utopian nor dystopian; there’s enough imaginative wiggle room to let your mind wander in both directions, and that’s a good thing. But like we’ve shown with Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg’s Designing For the Sixth Extinction project and the Extrapolation Factory‘s design work, projects like this can at least get a conversation started around what kind of future we’d like to build for ourselves.