Dunne & Raby, United Micro Kingdoms

What could our digital world look like in 2150? Dunne & Raby’s design fictions explore the impacts of new tech on society's future

Anthony Dunne & Fiona Raby bring their United Micro Kingdom (UmK): A Design Fiction to this year’s Istanbul Design Biennial.  In a work originally commissioned by the Design Museum in London, their exhibition interrogates possible impacts of new technologies on society around the biennial theme, “The Future is Not What it Used to Be”. Using a method called design fictions, the designer and educator duo create wildly imaginative yet altogether possible future scenarios of the United Kingdom.

United Micro Kingdoms depicts a country devolved into four diverse, self-governing counties or micro kingdoms, each free to experiment with governance, economy and lifestyle in their own way. These 'live laboratories' explore how existing and new technologies will alter the way we live. Drawing concepts from art, sociology, architecture, industrial design and science, they inspire debate about how products and resources can and should be used. They assign each micro kingdom a persona, provoking viewers to find a vision of themselves in the future. Dunne & Raby describe them as follows:

Digitarians depend on digital technology and all its implicit totalitarianism: tagging, metrics, total surveillance, tracking, data logging and 100% transparency. Their society is organized entirely by market forces; citizen and consumer are the same. They develop Digicars, electric self-drive cars akin to an economy airline that constantly (re)calculates the best and most economical routes to destinations. 

The Communo-nuclearist society is a no-growth, limited population experiment. Using nuclear power to deliver near limitless energy, the state provides everything needed for their continued survival. Although they are energy rich it comes at a price — no one wants to live near them. Under constant threat of attack or accident, they live on a continually moving, 3 kilometre, nuclear-powered mobile landscape.

The Anarcho-evolutionists abandon most technologies, or at least stop developing them, and concentrate on using science to maximise their own physical capabilities through training, DIY biohacking and self-experimentation. They believe that humans should modify themselves to exist within the limits of the planet rather than modifying the planet to meet their ever growing needs.

Bioliberals fully embrace biotechnology and the new values that this entails. Biology is at the centre of their world-view, leading to a radically different technological landscape to our own. Each person produces their own energy according to their needs. Bioliberals are essentially farmers, cooks and gardeners. Not just of plants and food, but of products too. Gardens, kitchens and farms replace factories and workshop. They drive biocars, light organically grown vehicles that run on anaerobic digesters and fuel cells, and are customized to each user.  

Viewers playfully interact with objects in the exhibit, inviting a powerful contemplation about the social, cultural and ethical implications of the way we design things. As a result, Dunne and Raby’s design fictions help us re-interpret implicit goals and envision consequences before they happen. Perhaps our political leaders might glimpse into the future with them, to question collectively what we do or do not want to become.