Imagine a plant with double the amount of protein as meat and 50 times more iron than spinach.
Imagine if we could grow this plant anywhere on the planet, using it as a form of nutrient-rich food, in the development of biofuels, as a way to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, and as a method of treating industrial wastewater.
The good news is that this super plant, microalgae, is real – and the biology and the technology to create it at scale already exists.
So why isn’t microalgae everywhere, fortifying food, reducing deforestation and improving air quality? It’s a question the scientists and researchers at Space10, a Copenhagen-based future-living lab funded by IKEA, are working hard to answer.
Dedicated to researching, testing and raising awareness about forward-thinking projects with life-changing potential, Space10 teamed up with three young architects to create The Algae Dome – a four-meter-tall architectural pavilion that absorbs sun and CO2 to produce oxygen and vitamin-rich superfood. Displayed at the Chart Art Fair in Copenhagen, the exhibition was created to trigger a conversation and draw attention to the immense potential of microalgae and help mobilise a truly green movement.
The initiative is just one example of the work Space10 does in designing better, more meaningful and more sustainable ways of living.
Culture Trip (CT): Space10’s work centres around three themes: circular societies, co-existence and digital empowerment. Tell me a little about what these ideas mean, and why you decided to focus on them?
Daniel Friis (DF): We always start with looking at how the world is changing and what major challenges we as human will face in coming decades, so we explore everything from rapid urbanisation and the scarcity of natural resources, to loneliness in cities, food security and the lack of affordable housing, as well as how technological breakthroughs such as mixed reality, artificial intelligence and digital fabrication tools can empower people in completely new ways.
All our research and design circles around three major themes. ‘Circular societies’ explores how to transform our current consumption-oriented economic system into a self-sustaining society, so this is about rethinking our models of production, consumption, and waste. ‘Coexistence’ examines how to design new, sustainable concepts for spaces in which to live, work, meet, eat and interact, and finally, ‘digital empowerment’ explores how we can drive positive change in an increasingly digital world and empower people in new ways.
CT: Why is important to engage with audiences with public-facing projects?
DF: We believe that there’s no innovation without a great story. We believe that you can’t change the world if you keep your world-changing ideas to yourself. In contrast to many other innovation labs, we don’t want to be vault for great ideas, but rather present them to the world so we can learn from them and move more people to action.
It also serves another important purpose. Mike Tyson put it very well: ‘Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.’ The essence is that we want to share our ideas, research and concepts as early as possible because we know that we can’t get everything right in a vacuum. We need to get as much valid feedback as early as possible in order to make our ideas stronger and even more impactful. Additionally, we deeply believe that collaboration beats competition and that the challenges we face and the aspirations we have are too big for one organisation to achieve alone.
There are so many inspiring and brilliant people out there so why compete with them if we can collaborate. This approach secures continuously fresh perspectives, speed, and experts in so many different fields, and we would never be able to deliver that diversity and creativity by being secretive within a permanent in-house team – just imagine if Apple had to develop all their apps themselves.
CT: How are your projects helping the public to understand the implications of rapidly evolving technology?
DF: One really good example is our project called ‘Do you speak human?’. It’s an online survey where we want to shed light on the rapid developments in AI that are taking place at all major technology companies right now.
AI will undeniably have a major impact on both our society as a whole but also on us as individuals. But the developments are happening behind closed doors at profit-driven technology companies in Silicon Valley, London, and China. That makes us question if we can avoid infused bias in AI and ensure a diverse approach to the development.
At Space10, we believe that a technology as impactful as AI has to be unbiased and developed in accordance with the values and expectations of the people impacted by it. The problem is that most people are not aware of neither the impact nor the fact that they are right now out of influence. With ‘Do you speak human?’ we ask people how they’d like their future AI to look like, act like, and behave like. With this project we are not only trying to increase awareness, but also giving people a voice, and so far it’s engaged people from 139 countries world wide.
CT: What is your favourite project you’ve created and why?
DF: It is probably one of our smaller projects at SPACE10; Conversational Form. It’s an open source tool and framework for working with conversations online. It enables designers and developers to build interfaces that are conversational by means of voice or text.
The reason why I’m highlighting that particular project is because of it’s open source nature. Most people probably don’t know that most digital solutions today are built on open source projects which are maintained by unnamed individuals who invested their time and effort to make it easier for people to create digital experiences.
The beauty is that anyone can make free use these projects as well as contribute to their development. With Conversational Form we’ve managed to engage more that 2,300 developers, and because anyone can implement it, we see more than 200,000 people interacting with Conversational Form every day. Conversational Form is a way for us to have a democratic approach to design and development.
For more on the projects shaping the world of tomorrow, check out The Future Starts Here.