Speculative Design: The Concept of a Self Reliant Companion Box

Fast forward to 2045, Toronto continues growing into an international mega metropolitan. The population increases exponentially and the cost of living has skyrocketed. Due to the deteriorating global environmental condition caused by the overconsumption of energy, the climate in Toronto has become more severe, where hot summers and extreme winters become the norm. As many production and service jobs are replaced by AI and robotic devices, many people have to rely on welfare and social assistance. While some pockets of the city grow more and more affluent, with multi-billion dollar housing erected in old neighborhoods, homelessness becomes an alternative way of living. Many people give up the dream of owning properties and choose a minimalist lifestyle to survive in the city.

The Self Reliant Companion Box (SRCB) has become a ubiquitous device for surviving in the city of many people. With the subsidy from the city, this device can be obtained with an application and a minimum annual license fee as low as $50. The city also provides dedicated overnight staying facilities for people with SRCB, where each person is provided with a small cell with amenities. The facilities are clean, functional, and aesthetically designed multifunction buildings with local shopping malls, food courts, and shared public areas. The overnight staying cells are open from 5 pm to 10 am and equipped with surveillance cameras for safety control. The AI central management system that connects every SRCB manages each cell and rates the behavior of its owner. A credit program is implemented with the behavior of each person, which may be used as a factor to decide on the amount of the social benefit under the bill 307 passed in 2040.
The SRCB is a multifunctional box that is powered by solar energy and can be expanded into a small living shelter. The box is equipped with wheels and an AI chip that can be programmed by its owner through voice recognition or digital input, all personal information and digital data can
be stored in this unit and be backed up to the free city security database. The SRCB is registered to each of its owners and only works when activated by the owner’s fingerprint or eye iris via scan. While it is fully charged after 2 hours in the sun, it can carry up to 200 lbs of weight and travel at 20km/hour. A storage cabin is built in the SRCB, where the owner can store the physical belongings.

Jeff’s story 

Jeff works for an SRCB repair company in the West of Toronto. Although most of the labour work and programming is done by AI and automation, some service work is still available for Jeff to use in his expertise in data visualization and analytics. Luckily, after finishing his Masters in computer science, he has been working for this company as a data specialist, helping the company find glitches in data collection and repairing robotic programs. He makes an average income, however, there is no way he could own a small apartment, even renting one would take away a large sum of his income. Instead of spending most of his earnings to settle in one place, he chose to get an SRCB and enjoy the freedom in the city. Of course, he is not eligible for the city program, so he carries a small monthly payment of $200 to the city, which will contribute to the subsidy program for the SRCB. 

Jeff’s routine starts with leaving the overnight staying cell at the city facility. After having his breakfast from the vending machine, He will sign in his work ID and start working on his SRCB in the public learning/working center on the main level of his overnight staying facility or sometimes in the city park if the weather allows. Most of his work is done by using the SRCB, he only goes to the office occasionally to meet other colleagues for team meetings and socializing. Lunch and dinner are normally ordered from the SRCB and delivered to him by robotic cart. Every Friday, he packs his dirty laundry and receives his clean clothes by scheduling a pickup and delivery order from SRCB to the clearing service. Life is simple: working, surfing, and socializing on the web. He even has an online girlfriend from Iceland and they plan to meet sometime in the future when they have enough savings. At night, he converts the SRCB into a bed, the temperature-controlled cushion pads are comfortable enough for him to sleep in. Sometimes, when he traveled outside the city, he would convert the SRCB into a shelter and enjoy nature in the park. Of course, the SRCB needs to follow the local park by-law to stay in the designated area. All his personal and financial information is stored in the data chip, and most of his money after taxes is spent on paying for food, services, data exchange, and entertainment. The highlight of his week is always the Saturday nightlife as the Toronto club scene on the weekend is always spectacular. 

Life in 2045 gets simpler, where the dual systems work in the balance between the capitalist market economy and socialist government subsidy programs. While the city’s economy is dominated by a few international corporations, the city relies on the tax money from these giant corporations to keep society in check. Many people only work a few days or do not work at all since the universal social benefit would provide the necessity for surviving in the city. However, properties and family life belong to the upper-middle class. The SRCB has become a phenomenon in society as technology is making it possible. It provides a solution for the city with growing departing economical differences. At the same time, The SRCB contributes to a connected, controlled, and highly intelligent operating system between the state and individual citizens, in which SRCB is not only a product but also a part of the production system that fuels the capitalist system of automation. 

The future is not ominous or a utopia, but it will continue to be a survival story between the departing social and economical gaps. Indeed technology can provide a certain mediation to social issues. However, without fundamental changes, it will only extend the time for us to meet the extremes.