Transdisciplinary Design

Human, Non-human

Posted on December 17, 2019

When I learned the research about Cyborg Botany (moving plants) by Harpreet Sareen, from MIT media lab, in the lecture, it reminded me a character, “Kibo” in the comic “Doraemon.” In that story, the main characters Doraemon and Nobita gave a special liquid to a little tree to enable him to move or speak and named that tree “Kibo.” (I don’t paste the image of Kibo because I am concern about the copyright…! Please search on google with the keywords “goodbye Kibo Doraemon”! Although you can see some versions of Kibo, I like the manga version that it doesn’t look like anime-ish). Then they loved Kibo like their little brother and had a fun time.

In this story, they gave intelligence to a tree and communicate with him. Although we cannot put this story and Sareen’s research into entirely the same category, he also tries to interact with plants by augmenting the natural ability of plants. He used the term “Non-human design” or “Native-centered Design.” Also, Fuentes said in his article, “Humans, as consummate niche constructors, are ecosystem managers with attendant ethical and practical responsibilities.” [1]

I felt these ideas still have the perspective of “Human-Centric design” because each looked like they try to close non-human species to the human side or manage non-human species from the human side. However, it is natural. I heard before about the news a Japanese professor was arrested because he scattered poison feeds in the park to kill pigeons (He said he hated them because they come to his porch and make there dirty). However, at the same time, we always scatter much poison feeds to kill rats, cockroaches, other non-human species, and no one is arrested. Who draws this line? We, humans, do. We are never on the side we are sort out by other species. It is natural that we always think things from our perspective.

Donna Harraway thought the relationship with species such as dogs and us as “companion species.” She said, “It’s about being in company with, being at table with.” [2] The word “companion” is from the Latin word “cum panis,” which means “with bread.” My understanding is that she tried to remove the border between non-human species and us (I know this easy sentence is not enough to explain her thoughts, though).

In this real world, what is coexistence with multispecies? Many researchers try to unravel the system of non-human species’ ways of thinking or try to give some intelligence to them. However, they don’t provide a high intelligence to non-human species such as animals or plants, and most of us don’t want such a thing. In the story of Doraemon I mentioned first, Kibo had gone to another planet that all plants had intelligence equal to a human. Namely, we cannot live with other species that have intelligence the same to us. I suspect that coexistence means optimizing the world from a human perspective with the flavor of considering non-human species. Is there a “real” coexistence after all unless other species don’t have any intelligence?

However, in terms of intelligence, a new “species” is coming up now. The computer has developed on unstoppable momentum from its emergence, and a part of them is called “Artificial Intelligence.” Of course, to be accurate, AI is not a species because it is not a living organism. Besides, it doesn’t have any consciousness or themself so far. So far. However, we never know whether AI gets what we call “consciousness” or they suddenly claim their rights, such as computers in science fiction movies in the future. It is a speculative idea, but we cannot say it’s an absolute nonsense idea. This new species may become the only species that transcend human intelligence (We have to care about the way of using “intelligence” though). If this future will come true, can we coexist with this new species well? Could they become our “companion species”? What meanings does it have that designing the world from the perspective of other species?

At this point, the power balance between us and other species, including computers, cannot be reversed by any species because of our overwhelming intelligence. However, if this power balance starts to change, our perspective of the world will change. It is an obvious and speculative idea at the same time. However, I think we could think about it.


[1] Fuentes, Agustín. 2015. “Becoming Human With Others In The Anthropocene: The Long View”. Engagement, Accessed December 17, 2019.

[2] Franklin, Sarah. 2017. “Staying with the Manifesto: An Interview with Donna Haraway”. Theory, Culture & Society, vol. 34, 4: pp.49-63, First Published March 28, 2017.

[3] Haraway, Donna Jeanne. 2016. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham: Duke University Press.

[4] Harpreet Sareen’s project page, MIT media lab, Accessed December 17, 2019.