Design Fiction
Sparking discussion about the social, cultural, and ethical implications of emerging technologies through design and storytelling.

The Design Fiction group designs projects to stimulate discussion about the social, cultural, and ethical implications of emerging technologies. The group also explores novel ways to spread debate using social/viral media and popular culture.

Research Projects

  • (Im)possible Baby

    Ai Hasegawa, Sputniko!, Asako Makimura and Moriga

    (Im)possible Baby is a speculative design project that aims to stimulate discussions about the social, cultural, and ethical implications of emerging biotechnologies that could enable same-sex couples to have their own, genetically related children. Delivering a baby from same-sex parents is not a sci-fi dream anymore, due to recent developments in genetics and stem cell research. In this project, the DNA data of a lesbian couple was analyzed using 23andme to simulate and visualize their potential children, and then we created a set of fictional, “what if" future family photos using this information to produce a hardcover album which was presented to the couple as a gift. To achieve more public outreach, we worked with the Japanese national television service, NHK, to create a 30-minute documentary film following the whole process, which aired in October 2015.

  • CremateBot: Transform, Reborn, Free

    Dan Chen

    CremateBot is an apparatus that takes in human-body samples—such as fingernails, hair, or dead skin—and turns them into ashes through the cremation process. The process of converting human remains to ashes becomes a critical experience for observers, causing witnesses to question their sense of existence and physical self through the conversion process. CremateBot transforms our physical self and celebrates our rebirth through self-regeneration. The transformation and rebirth open our imagination to go beyond our physical self and cross the span of time. Similar to Theseus' paradox, the dead human cells—which at one point were considered part of our physical selves and helped to define our sense of existence—are continually replaced with newly generated cells. With recent advancements in implants, biomechatronics, and bioengineered organs, how we define ourselves is increasingly blurred.

  • Digital Pregnancy Through Domestic Objects

    Dan Chen

    Driven female professionals often choose to pursue their careers in lieu of having children. For many of them, strategies of surrogacy or freezing eggs are popular options not only because of available technological advancements, but also because of shifts in cultural perspective enabled by a new biotechnical regime. The dichotomy that forces an “either/or” divide between motherhood and career can be seen as a modern form of regulatory control on women. The question of reproduction becomes a matter of our bio-techno-capitalist society as a confine of women’s voices and freedom. Companies such as Facebook and Apple have recently offered to pay female employees to freeze their eggs so they can continue with their careers, without interrupting their dreams of having children. However, there still remain many ethical, social, and political dilemmas which exist with surrogacy, questions that must be posed to the public.

  • Nostalgic Touch

    Dan Chen

    Nostalgic Touch proposes a new ritual for remembering the deceased in the digital and multicultural age. It is an apparatus that captures hand motions and attempts to replicate the sensation of intimacy or affection by playing back the comforting gestures. It stores gesture data of the people you cared about, then plays them back after they are gone. Similar to rituals in all religions, it gives us a sense of comfort in coping with the death. People in Japan, Singapore, and China live with high standards of technology, but many embrace religious rituals and superstitions as an important part of their wellbeing and decision-making. Nostalgic Touch explores how emerging technologies could be used to enrich the experience of these rituals. How could we augment these rituals to give an even better sense of comfort and intimacy?

  • Open Source Estrogen

    Mary Tsang

    Open Source Estrogen combines do-it-yourself science, body and gender politics, and ethics of hormonal manipulation. The goal of the project is to create an open source protocol for estrogen biosynthesis. The kitchen is a politically charged space, prescribed to women as their proper dwelling, making it the appropriate place to prepare an estrogen synthesis recipe. With recent developments in the field of synthetic biology, the customized kitchen laboratory may be a ubiquitous possibility in the near future. Open-access estrogen would allow women and transgender females to exercise greater control over their bodies by circumventing governments and institutions. We want to ask: What are the biopolitics governing our bodies? More importantly, is it ethical to self-administer self-synthesized hormones?

  • Pop Roach

    Ai Hasegawa

    Facing issues of food crisis by overpopulation, this project explores a possible future where a small community of activists arises to design an edible cockroach that can survive in harsh environments. These genetically modified roaches are designed to pass their genes to the next generations; thus the awful black and brown roaches will be pushed to extinction by the newly designed, cute, colorful, tasty, and highly nutritional "pop roach." The color of these "pop roaches" corresponds to a different flavor, nutrition, and function, while the original ones remain black or brown, and not recommended to be eaten. How will genetic engineering shift our perception of food and eating habits? Pop Roach explores how we can expand our perception of cuisine to solve some of the world's most pressing problems.

  • Red Silk of Fate-Tamaki's Crush


    Red String of Fate is an East Asian mythology in which gods tie an invisible red string between those that are destined to be together. Sputniko! has collaborated with scientists from NIAS to geneticallyengineer silkworms to spin this mythical 'Red String of Fate' by inserting genes that produce oxytocin, a social-bonding 'love' hormone, and the genes of a red-glowing coral into silkworm eggs. Science has long challenged and demystified the world of mythologies: from Galileo's belief that the earth revolved around the sun, to Darwin's theory of evolution and beyond--but in the near future, could science be recreating our mythologies? The film unravels a story around the protagonist Tamaki, an aspiring genetic engineer, who engineers her own "Red Silk of Fate" in the hopes of winning the heart of her crush, Sachihiko. However, strange, mythical powers start to inhabit her creation....

  • Teshima 8 Million Lab


    Teshima 8 Million Lab is the first Shinto shrine worshipping a genetically engineered life - a silkworm created in Sputniko!'s new work Red Silk of Fate - Tamaki's Crush. In the Shinto religion, "Yaoyorozu" (which literally means "8 Million") is a word used to describe the myriad of gods believed to reside in almost anything - such as the wind, the ocean, trees and animals. Conceived by artist Sputniko!, Teshima 8 Million Lab sets out to create new members of Yaoyorozu, forming a mythology from emerging science and art. Far from the big city and located on a site blessed with an abundance of nature, the facility invites the exploration of alternative perspectives on our future of nature and beliefs, as science continues to move forward.

  • Tranceflora - Amy's Glowing Silk


    We collaborated with NIAS (National Institute of Agricultural Science) to genetically engineer silkworms to develop novel kinds of silk which can be used for future fashion. For the exhibition, we designed a Nishijin-Kimono dress, working with NIAS's glowing silk (created by injecting the genes of a glowing coral and jellyfish into silkworm eggs) and exhibited the piece in Tokyo's Gucci Gallery. More detailed information about this project can be found here: