Grow Your Own Cloud is a project which explores the future of data storage, storing data nature’s way, in the DNA of plants. By offering an alternative to data centres, we propose a new type of ‘cloud’ – one that is organic, rather than silicon, and which emits oxygen rather than CO2. The project seeks to uncover the scientific potential in this area to deploy these methods at scale, as well as imagine and convey the implications of this approach through constructing a speculative reality.
In a post-industrial age of information, data is the new oil, and companies that deal in data are the largest in the world. Just like oil before it, our demand for data has a serious impact on the environment. The greenhouse gases emitted by data consumption already exceed the aviation industry, and look set to grow exponentially. We call this ‘data warming’.
Exploring the link between two key topics of our time; data and anthropogenic climate change, we seek to develop new strategies and proposals which create greater consciousness around the effects of data storage. To provide ideas that look at Earth as a system, and nature as a technology we work with, rather than a resource we exploit.
Through a speculative design process, involving field work, interviews, workshops and prototyping, we were able to imagine radical ideas to tackle the complex, interconnected issues that we were investigating. This process led to collaboration with scientists, and the development of an idea to explore a more organic way of storing information, finding an elegant candidate for data storage in the world’s oldest storage device – DNA.
To bring this to life, we transformed a flower-shop into a decentralized data centre, and invited people to upload their data to the new cloud. The experience sought to use the everyday setting of the flower-shop to transport people into a future where nature and data are no longer remote, corporate-owned, foreign entities, but local, familiar, and filled with valuable data.
By deploying scientific knowledge outside of the lab, and using artistic devices outside of the gallery, we were able to educate and engage people, spark knowledge exchange, unexpected ideas and dialogue on the future of data, biotechnology and our relationship with nature and technology.
Through this work, we intend to inspire a world of new possibilities, scientific processes, and ethical considerations particularly around the implications of our current behaviours related to data, as well as the usage of genetic modification.
While as a species, we seem to be stuck in a strange loop, disruptive ideas and optimistic visions are required to create a platform for further investigation which fuel unorthodox use cases. The speculative process offers opportunities for this type of investigation to reach the general public, and in this project, the experience, artefacts and world built for Grow Your Own Cloud served to create a particularly effective discursive platform.