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  • What if our plants

  • could sense the toxicity levels in the soil

  • and express that toxicity through the color of its leaves?

  • What if those plants could also remove those toxins from the soil?

  • Instead, what if those plants

  • grew their own packaging,

  • or were designed to only be harvested

  • by their owners' own patented machines?

  • What happens when biological design

  • is driven by the motivations of mass-produced commodities?

  • What kind of world would that be?

  • My name is Ani, and I'm a designer and researcher at MIT Media Lab,

  • where I'm part of a relatively new and unique group called Design Fiction,

  • where we're wedged somewhere between science fiction and science fact.

  • And at MIT, I am lucky enough to rub shoulders with scientists

  • studying all kinds of cutting edge fields

  • like synthetic neurobiology,

  • artificial intelligence, artificial life

  • and everything in between.

  • And across campus, there's truly brilliant scientists

  • asking questions like, "How can I make the world a better place?"

  • And part of what my group likes to ask is, "What is better?"

  • What is better for you, for me,

  • for a white woman, a gay man,

  • a veteran, a child with a prosthetic?

  • Technology is never neutral.

  • It frames a reality

  • and reflects a context.

  • Can you imagine what it would say about the work-life balance at your office

  • if these were standard issue on the first day?

  • (Laughter)

  • I believe it's the role of artists and designers

  • to raise critical questions.

  • Art is how you can see and feel the future,

  • and today is an exciting time to be a designer,

  • for all the new tools becoming accessible.

  • For instance, synthetic biology

  • seeks to write biology as a design problem.

  • And through these developments,

  • my lab asks, what are the roles and responsibilities

  • of an artist, designer, scientist or businessman?

  • What are the implications

  • of synthetic biology, genetic engineering,

  • and how are they shaping our notions of what it means to be a human?

  • What are the implications of this on society, on evolution

  • and what are the stakes in this game?

  • My own speculative design research at the current moment

  • plays with synthetic biology,

  • but for more emotionally driven output.

  • I'm obsessed with olfaction as a design space,

  • and this project started with this idea

  • of what if you could take a smell selfie, a smelfie?

  • (Laughter)

  • What if you could take your own natural body odor

  • and send it to a lover?

  • Funny enough, I found that this was a 19th century Austrian tradition,

  • where couples in courtship would keep a slice of apple

  • crammed under their armpit during dances,

  • and at the end of the evening,

  • the girl would give the guy she most fancied her used fruit,

  • and if the feeling was mutual,

  • he would wolf down that stinky apple.

  • (Laughter)

  • Famously, Napoleon wrote many love letters to Josephine,

  • but perhaps amongst the most memorable is this brief and urgent note:

  • "Home in three days. Don't bathe."

  • (Laughter)

  • Both Napoleon and Josephine adored violets.

  • Josephine wore violet-scented perfume,

  • carried violets on their wedding day,

  • and Napoleon sent her a bouquet of violets

  • every year on their anniversary.

  • When Josephine passed away,

  • he planted violets at her grave,

  • and just before his exile,

  • he went back to that tomb site,

  • picked some of those flowers, entombed them in a locket

  • and wore them until the day he died.

  • And I found this so moving,

  • I thought, could I engineer that violet to smell just like Josephine?

  • What if, for the rest of eternity,

  • when you went to visit her site,

  • you could smell Josephine just as Napoleon loved her?

  • Could we engineer new ways of mourning,

  • new rituals for remembering?

  • After all, we've engineered transgenic crops

  • to be maximized for profit,

  • crops that stand up to transport,

  • crops that have a long shelf life,

  • crops that taste sugary sweet but resist pests,

  • sometimes at the expense of nutritional value.

  • Can we harness these same technologies for an emotionally sensitive output?

  • So currently in my lab,

  • I'm researching questions like, what makes a human smell like a human?

  • And it turns out it's fairly complicated.

  • Factors such as your diet, your medications, your lifestyle

  • all factor into the way you smell.

  • And I found that our sweat is mostly odorless,

  • but it's our bacteria and microbiome

  • that's responsible for your smells, your mood, your identity

  • and so much beyond.

  • And there's all kinds of molecules that you emit

  • but which we only perceive subconsciously.

  • So I've been cataloging and collecting

  • bacteria from different sites of my body.

  • After talking to a scientist, we thought,

  • maybe the perfect concoction of Ani

  • is like 10 percent collarbone, 30 percent underarm,

  • 40 percent bikini line and so forth,

  • and occasionally I let researchers from other labs

  • take a sniff of my samples.

  • And it's been interesting to hear how smell of the body

  • is perceived outside of the context of the body.

  • I've gotten feedback such as,

  • smells like flowers, like chicken,

  • like cornflakes,

  • like beef carnitas.

  • (Laughter)

  • At the same time, I cultivate a set of carnivorous plants

  • for their ability to emit fleshlike odors to attract prey,

  • in an attempt to kind of create this symbiotic relationship

  • between my bacteria and this organism.

  • And as it so happens, I'm at MIT and I'm in a bar,

  • and I was talking to a scientist

  • who happens to be a chemist and a plant scientist,

  • and I was telling him about my project,

  • and he was like, "Well, this sounds like botany for lonely women."

  • (Laughter)

  • Unperturbed, I said, "OK."

  • I challenged him.

  • "Can we engineer a plant that can love me back?"

  • And for some reason, he was like, "Sure, why not?"

  • So we started with, can we get a plant to grow towards me

  • like I was the sun?

  • And so we're looking at mechanisms in plants such as phototropism,

  • which causes the plant to grow towards the sun

  • by producing hormones like auxin,

  • which causes cell elongation on the shady side.

  • And right now I'm creating a set of lipsticks

  • that are infused with these chemicals

  • that allow me to interact with a plant on its own chemical signatures --

  • lipsticks that cause plants to grow where I kiss it,

  • plants that blossom where I kiss the bloom.

  • And through these projects,

  • I'm asking questions like,

  • how do we define nature?

  • How do we define nature when we can reengineer its properties,

  • and when should we do it?

  • Should we do it for profit, for utility?

  • Can we do it for emotional ends?

  • Can biotechnology be used to create work as moving as music?

  • What are the thresholds between science

  • and its ability to shape our emotional landscape?

  • It's a famous design mantra that form follows function.

  • Well, now, wedged somewhere between science, design and art

  • I get to ask,

  • what if fiction informs fact?

  • What kind of R&D lab would that look like

  • and what kind of questions would we ask together?

  • We often look to technology as the answer,

  • but as an artist and designer,

  • I like to ask, but what is the question?

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

What if our plants

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B1 US TED josephine napoleon synthetic design smell

【TED】Ani Liu: Smelfies, and other experiments in synthetic biology (Smelfies, and other experiments in synthetic biology | Ani Liu)

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    Zenn posted on 2017/03/26
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