The early 20th century marked the discovery of DNA as the basis of information storage, coinciding with the advent of the modern computing era. These parallel developments have led to a conceptual framework that views life as an information processing system and digital computations as intelligence. Michael Sedbon's Cryptographic Beings is a testament to this cultural relationship, demonstrating how we can design new kinds of bio-hybrid computers that leverage the massive capacity of life.
What sets Cryptographic Beings apart is its unique method of digital information storage. The design uses Marimos, large spherical colonies of algae, whose photosynthetic activity produces gas vesicles visible to the naked eye. This property allows them to float when exposed to light and sink in the dark, representing digital 0s or 1s. This robotic setup can store a five-letter word, demonstrating the potential of vegetal media as a digital data storage device.
Developed as a functional prototype, Cryptographic Beings uses living algae, custom electronics, and software code to store information. It is a product of Sedbon's ongoing research on bio-hybrid computation, exploring the possible morpho-space of computing devices. The design questions the information-processing properties of living matter through the creation of novel technologies embedded into sculptural artefacts.
The autonomous machine consists of an array of 30 vegetal bits made of filamentous algae held in glass vessels. The control of the information flow is handled by a set of specifically developed robotic arms that control photosynthetic processes in each of the bits. The state of each bit, or the digital information, is retrieved by a custom-made device based on a colour sensor. The machine is designed to run autonomously for months throughout an exhibition.
Despite the numerous technical challenges encountered during its development, such as the design of custom sensors and engineered mechanical parts, Cryptographic Beings successfully communicates its highly technical subject in an understandable manner. It is both a technological and an artistic proposal, placing great care in rendering biological processes visible. This bio-hybrid machine manipulates photosynthetic organisms through rules implemented in software and hardware, showcasing a newly developed technology for information storage that leverages the ability of algae to perceive light.
Michael Sedbon's Cryptographic Beings was awarded Silver in A' Interactive, Experiential and Design Installations Award in 2023. This prestigious accolade is a testament to the design's outstanding expertise and innovation, admired for its strong technical characteristics and splendid artistic skill. It showcases a remarkable level of excellence and introduces positive feelings, amazement, and wonder. Truly, Cryptographic Beings is a revolutionary design that pushes the boundaries of what is possible in the intersection of art, technology, and biology.
Project Designers: Michael Sedbon
Image Credits: Michael Sedbon
Project Team Members: Michael Sedbon
Project Name: Cryptographic Beings
Project Client: Michael Sedbon