Tokyo in 2050: Imagined by Sony designers and science fiction writers
The Creative Center, Sony's in-house design group, is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. The Creative Center has expanded its activities from electronics to entertainment, finance, mobility, and other business areas, and has designed a wide range of products, as well as brands and interfaces.
In this edition of Sony Corporate Blog, we will share interviews with the employees who planned and executed a project that depicts the future of Tokyo from multiple perspectives in collaboration with science fiction writers.
(Left) Chihiro Aoshima, Team 2, Studio 3, Creative Center, Sony Group Corporation
Applying the bold imagination of science fiction writers to design development
― Can you explain the concept of this project?
Aoshima: This project is a collaboration between Sony designers and science fiction writers using a technique called Sci-Fi prototyping* to imagine the lives of people living in Tokyo in 2050.
We set four themes in collaboration with the Wired Sci-Fi Prototyping Lab: "WELL-BEING", "HABITAT", "SENSE", and "LIFE". After six months of workshops, designers submitted "design prototyping" proposals for products and services, and the sci-fi writers wrote short stories to go along with each theme.
Ohno: As social issues become more complex and technology rapidly evolves, the topics that designers must grapple with are also becoming more unpredictable
Under such circumstances, it is essential to introduce the latest design methodologies and collaborate with outside experts. We also want to improve the skills of designers through new challenges.
Sony has always been committed to creating the future with technology, so I think that science fiction and Sony actually go hand-in-hand
- * A technique that uses SF (“science fiction”) to envision the future, backtrack from that point, and consider "what should be done now". It is attracting attention particularly on the West Coast of the United States, and is being used more and more in recent years.
― What sort of expectations do you have for the many young designers involved in this project?
Ohno: Apart from their daily work, I would like them to have the experience of using their imagination to come up with free and bold ideas that a designer can have.
Also, I would like these young designers, who are likely to still be active and working in 2050, to predict the future and then see how it turns out in 30 years.
What kind of romance do people have in "Tokyo in 2050"?
― In this project, the three keywords "2050", "Tokyo", and "romance" are used as the overarching framework for the four themes. Why did you decide to frame this project around romance?
Ohno: To tell the story of the four themes of "WELL-BEING," "HABITAT," "SENSE," and "LIFE," which were chosen based on Sony's exploration areas, we decided to focus on "people" rather than future technology itself. So, for this project, science fiction writers wrote short stories about what kind of "romance" people will have in Tokyo in 2050, while designers proposed what kind of products and services may be used in those imagined worlds.
In Sci-Fi prototyping, it is common to have a writer write a dystopian tale and then think about what we can do to avoid such a future. However, this time we wanted to imagine a bright future, so we chose the keyword "romance".
― What kinds of products and services have the designers come up with?
Aoshima: My team had the theme of "WELL-BEING" and we proposed an AI counselor called "Ophelia" together with a science fiction writer. No matter how much technology evolves, it's difficult to eliminate stress and setbacks in life, and that's why Ophelia helps people to develop the resilience to recover from any setback.
The main character of the story wears a wearable device called the "Emotion Capturing Sensor" on their skin at all times to determine stress levels and health information in their body, and when the stress level becomes abnormal, they can participate in a counseling program with Ophelia through special contact lenses.
During the counseling sessions, Ophelia can freely change her appearance to that of the person who has been determined to provide the most resilience to the user, so it is possible to talk with a deceased person, for example.
Additionally, the team for "SENSE" has proposed new entertainment that enables people to share the scent of memories by converting scents into data.
Ohno: At "HABITAT," we have designed floating mobile houses that float in the Tokyo Bay of the future, where the sea level has risen significantly due to climate change. This project envisions a future in which a group of "sea nomads" will emerge, living in the floating mobile houses equipped with solar power and storage tanks, and having a unique ecosystem that coexists with the natural environment.
In the life-planning simulation service proposed in "LIFE", AI integrates big data to presents hundreds of options that suit each individual user’s personality.
― Are you also considering real-life feasibility when creating design prototypes?
Aoshima: At the start of the project, we received input from a trend forecasting research company, and we referred to it when predicting the future.
For example, for the mechanism of the “Emotion Capturing Sensor” mentioned earlier, it is assumed that bodily information can be read by placing the sensor in a specific area where blood vessels of the body are concentrated, and Ophelia can be called if there is an abnormality.
It may seem like a crazy technology, but even in modern times, research is underway to read blood information using sensors mounted on fingertips. With the prediction that singularity will occur around 2045, I think it is possible to realize an AI counselor utilizing such wearable devices.
Technology exists to make people happy
― Please tell us your thoughts after taking part in this project.
Aoshima: Since "romance" was one of the main elements in elaborating on each theme, there were times when each of us had to expose our views on romance. While it was difficult to consolidate various values into one theme without rejecting any of them, I found the process very enjoyable and rewarding.
Also, as part of the workshops in the project, those of us on the design side also had to write short stories of about 400 characters, which was a very meaningful experience. By writing a story, I was able to develop my ideas further, as I needed to consider not only the products and technologies, but also the characters and the social background of the time.
Ohno: In the end, I feel that this project truly embodied Sony's management direction of “getting closer to people." I learned that if we can focus on "people," technology will not run out of control and the world will not turn into a dystopia
I strongly believe that technology can be used for the well-being of people.
― What aspects of the project do you feel could not have been accomplished by Sony alone?
Aoshima: We received many opinions from science fiction writers about the things that Sony should focus on doing more. It was a great learning experience to hear the opinions of people with abundant creativity, and at the same time, it reiterated for me that it’s impossible to come up with interesting ideas for the future without thinking outside the box.
Ohno: It was difficult to keep up with the creativity of the science fiction writers, and I was sometimes worried whether we could really manage to make something worth presenting (laughs).
― Please tell us about your thoughts on the future of the Creative Center.
Ohno: Nowadays, as companies are expected more than ever to be more socially responsible, we would like to become an in-house design team that creates new social value and business value.
Aoshima: I strongly felt that in order to utilize technology that continues to evolve dramatically, it is necessary to not only design products to be released in the next few years, but also to anticipate decades ahead. For a brighter future, I think the Creative Center will become a more interesting organization if we can increase the number of people who can think up imaginative ideas, even if they think it is impossible.
Message from the SF Writer
We received a message from Mr. Taiyo Fujii on behalf of the four science fiction writers who cooperated with this project.
Mr. Taiyo Fujii
At first I wondered how modern large corporations build their businesses, and what the attitudes of those in creative organizations are, but when I saw the breadth of the participants and the wealth of ideas and topics, I felt that it was wonderful to have such diversity within a single organization, and not just within the Creative Center.
I think the strength of the Sci-Fi prototyping method is not so much the "predicting the future" part that science fiction novels and movies excel at, but rather the fact that it allows you to experience using the power of narrative. I think that you all have the experience telling a fictional story to others, which has given rise to new perspectives and ideas that would not appear in bullet points, matrices, and simulations of ideas. I hope that you will make use of that experience in your creative work in the future.