Living Technologies and their future in Creativity – Vivid Festival 2014

Recently I was invited to speak at 2020 ADAPT or DIE, a PechaKucha style event curated by the Australian Graphic Design Association (AGDA, with 20 speakers showing 20 slides on what the year 2020 might look like for creativity.

The Brief? Share your vision of what you think 2020 might look like for creativity. What are the top things you think will happen? What should we be getting ourselves ready for? We want to get people excited and prepared for the future of work.

Shot at Sydney’s iconic Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) during the 2014 VIVID Festival of ideas, I chose to speak of materials our rate of innovation may afford. Specifically looking at a grouping of trends I put under the ‘Living Technology’ umbrella; technologies available to few today but potentially available to the masses tomorrow. Innovations such as bio-pixels, nano-sensors, circuit stamps and a whole bunch of other things for which we should be taking notice.

Special thanks to AGDA, Linda Jukic, Anita Lyons, Jason Little.

Here’s a transcript of the talk and below references with relevant hyperlinks:

Living Technologies: What are they? Why will they be relevant? And why should I care? Well… I’ve got approximately 6 minutes and 29 seconds to convince you.

Let’s start by answering the question: What the is ‘Living Technology’?

Well if you google it, you’ll probably get an answer like this: ”Living Technology is the application of material and technologies derived from the coalescence of information technology, biotechnology and/or nanotechnology”.

Not entirely clear. That’s why I’m here with a bunch of pictures and few words to tell you. And if I don’t fuck it up, in 6 minutes time you’ll see why the Living Technology trend is happening and why you should care.

Let’s start with an innovation called Biopixels – TV screens powered by bacteria.

This is a ‘living screen’ developed by the University of California in San Diego. The “pixels” are in fact tiny E. coli bacteria passing molecules between themselves, requiring no electricity to emit light.

They contain bioluminescence colonies harvested from something like this little fellow. And, while they were not designed for TV, they could be coming soon to a billboard near you.

In fact earlier this year this billboard used a similar principle to unveil a virtual ‘galaxy’ depicting a starry night sky as the sun went down.

It was a long way off the fidelity of LCD, and didn’t quite replicate the innovation of the Biopixel project, but was certainly a small step in the right direction.

Ok, another: Nanosensors.

This is the humble Cicada. In 2011, inspired by its microscopic wing structure, scientists at RMIT made a huge breakthrough in the development of Nanosensors.

These are super-microscopic sensors that detect trace amounts of biological or chemical data — like toxins and pathogens – and relay them to this chip at a nano scale.

This allows us to do smart things such as the non-intrusive diagnosis of infections with a simple iPhone clip-on. They’re mobile in another ways too…

These bees have nanosensors thirty thousand times thinner than a single hair on your head. And they are able to sniff out bombs in airline baggage by the molecule.

So this is great, but what do nanosensors have to do with the future of creativity?


This is called a “circuit stamp”. It’s a nanosensor. It’s also a working wearable that takes up where Fuelband left off. Whilst these measure human energy, what about creating energy?

Energy Harvesting – or energy SCAVENGING as it’s affectionately known. This is the art of powering wearables by capturing energy from anything and everything around us.

And when I say anything… This invention scavenges the ambient energy from wifi and 3g transmissions, and turns it into power!

Disney are at it too. Creating toys, games, books and education tools using kinetic energy.

Jewellery designers too. This ring captures the kinetic energy of your hand to power a tiny LED light.

By 2020 the inevitable role of iBeacons will turn bricks and mortar into “Living Technologies”. Advances in bio and nano technology will open up new avenues for creativity, and should make it an exciting time to be in our field.

Be prepared. Adapt …or die.

I’m James Theophane. Creative Director at Holler Sydney, and you can follow me at iamtheo on twitter.

Further reading and references

Bio-stamp- a stretchy, twisty, wearable chip >
Biopixels – bioluminescent bacteria at work > UCSD
The Verge Biotecture – Life Sciences Education & Communication
BLDGBLOG- Bioluminescent Billboards
BLDGBLOG- The Bioluminescent Metropolis boiteaoutils
Make Me A Mountain! by Liam Young
MC10 Industrial & Defense
O2 promotes the arrival of the Samsung Galaxy S5 with UV-powered Projects
RIVER GLOW- Water Pollution Monitor

The new technique is simple, fast, and compatible with conventional silicon-chip fabrication. – MIT 2009

Inspired by the humble cicada, Australian scientists have shown for the first time that optical fibre nanosensors – tiny devices that can be used to detect trace amounts of chemicals – can be mass-produced. – COSMOS Magazine 2011

Imagine a piece of metal 30,000 times thinner than one of the hairs on your head. Mixed with a little protein from bee venom, that microscopic filament becomes the most powerful explosives-detection system in history, able to detect a single molecule of dangerous chemicals. – Wired 2011

Energy Harvesting
(also known as energy scavenging) Solar power, thermal energy, wind energy, salinity gradients, and kinetic energy), captured, and stored for small, wireless autonomous devices, like those used in wearable electronics.

Researchers have discovered a way to capture and harness energy transmitted by such sources as radio and television transmitters, cell phone networks and satellite communications systems. – GATECH 2011

A nanogenerator that produces a continuous flow of electricity by harvesting mechanical energy from a variety of sources. – Technovelgy 2007

Let’s be honest, it’s no big secret that we’re running out of dead dinosaurs to fuel our lives. And with recent natural catastrophes proving atomic energy isn’t what you’d call ‘safe,’ it’s a good thing the researchers down at the RMIT University in Melbourne have been hard at work figuring out how to turn you into a self-sustained energy source. – Engadget 2011

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