Pawn Future: Critter Orchestra



In collaboration with Extrapolation Factory, I appraised an object from the future and wrote a story based on Science Fact around how this imaginative sensory device came to be. With Bruce Sterling, and other thinkers, I was tasked to imagine the purpose, etymology and the history of this object and give it a price as if it were found in a pawn shop in 2050. The project is part of a series of Future Probing and Design Speculation using low tech tools, with a high tech research and an imaginative story telling and consideration for details that connect design, society, technology and ethics. 


Price in 2050 - $192
The Critter Orchestra was a product popularized in the 2030s. In the next few years it's popularity fell when cheaper and better versions of Sensi Inc. products became available for purchase. In 2050, it made a come back when speculative stories about a secret Sensi Laboratory went viral in the media. The product was re-manufactured as the strong brand identity created a demand for the nostalgic ones who played with it in the 30s.

This Critter Orchestra in particular is one of the original ones manufactured in the 30s and is available at a price for only $192.00. Consider investing in this legendary object, as in the coming years the price will go high when it becomes truly antique and the Lab secrets are revealed!


2035 - Synthetic Biology - the creation of life from nonliving chemicals designed on a computer - could produce thousands of synthetic genomes and life-forms not yet imagined. - Jerome C. Glenn, director of Millennium Project in Moving from Vision to Action

2011 - The protozoa Toxoplasma gondii has been found to cause personality changes - making men more jealous and likely to break rules, while women become more cheerful and warmhearted. T. gondii reproduces in cats’ guts, and therefore can be spread by contact such as cleaning a litter box.

Kevin Lafferty from the University of California, Santa Barbara


Story of Critter Orchestra
(The really long version):

Since the 1900s scientists and designers had been engaged in developing the tools of synthetic biology and probing ways in which we could move towards a better future. As various research Laboratories continued to look for solutions for long standing problems with this new technology, a chain of mysterious events set in motion in the early 2030s that changed life for all time to come.

By 2034 programming life had become cheap and acceptable globally. Citizens could now easily program behaviors in other living things with easy-to-use bio-interfacing tools and basic parts that could be used to build complex systems. a handful of new companies were born with novel ways of doing things, while old legacy corporations like P&G, Tyson foods, Intel, Google and Microsoft continued to expand product portfolio to include biological technologies.

Among the dozens of leading corporations in the industry was the new start-up-esque manufacturing company called Sensi. With their award winning and revolutionary sense-based products that changed the various "outputs" in plants and animals, they were able to become extremely popular among children and sought after by powerful people. The company's success began with a product called the "Singing Plants" which was a tool for kids to assign a sound to plants and later versions included other living things such as the "Critter Orchestra" and "Kitty Talk". The company's goal was to expand their product line to leverage all 5 senses, better reflecting their brand as "Sensi".

Soon the company offered sensors and "making-kits" allowing users to alter various organisms' not only sound but also their taste, shape, behavior, color, odor, texture and much more. For instance remember the "Worm de la Chef" toolkit? It is almost nostalgic to think of.

These "sense" kits worked out well for the company as their success was from the strategic decision to make a kit of parts inspired by lego, targeting children to build their dream pets. However in 2037 one of the co-founders had the idea to take the business in a different direction; she wanted Sensi to be the world leading company in perception and sense.

She created a Laboratory in a remote place, hiring the smartest and the most talented people to build upon Sensi technology to alter behavior of more complex organisms like humans. She thought that if she can do this with her team of designers and scientists, they could create an open platform for changing individual's sensory input and output with similar plug and play tools that had helped succeed Sensi in the early days.

The platform would be social and each individual would be able to control their own output and input to whatever degree they felt comfortable. Some considered this to be a scary tool that would encourage manipulation, but the co-founder believed that by helping humans create alternate realities by tuning whats coming in, and whats going out, they could have the ability to break their bodily limitations. She saw it as a creative tool, something artists can paint their world with. Everyone was an artists with Sensi.

In 2049, however, the co-founder's unconscious body was found close to the Laboratory and shortly after the media was overtaken by speculation regarding the cause of her death.

Many believe that it was a political move by a competitor, others think it was due to the stress of running such a large project in such times. Some believe that the team at the Lab began testing the technology on themselves and had "unsafe" and unwanted results or because she had began altering her own self so much that she no longer wanted to live in the "current" world. Still others believe that its due to Sensi struggling with making revenue from the time the Lab was launched, considering the billions of dollars poured in to running the research.

But in any case, the incident created a lot of negative press, and a new CEO took over who had some thoughts on how he must run the company in order to save the legacy of Sensi. He shut down the research facility (which we still don't know the details of what happened) and he brought back the original Sensi-kits as a vintage and nostalgic tool, considering its strong brand identity, to kickstart the company in a direction that would forever be remembered for making fun tools to orchestrate various sensing-designs on critters and plants.

The Critter Orchestra is the 3rd edition of the _s_o_u_n_d_ Sensi devices that is very quickly becoming popularized among the generation who grew up with them in the 2030s. If you find this Critter Orchestra manufactured in the 2030s in a pawn shop, you should consider purchasing it as it's price will be going quite high in the coming years when this object becomes a historical anomaly and an antique!