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Meet the Community: Viraj Joshi

Member Highlight — AIxDesign

After hearing about the UN 2050 project mentions for the open call, I was curious to know Viraj Joshi and his work, so I invited him for a virtual coffee. On a sunny day in Stockholm (and a rainy one in Amsterdam), we met and shared some of his amazing thoughts around AI in the Design world and introduced Eliza to me, his AI science fiction character. Please grab a cup of coffee and join us.

What are you doing at the moment?

I work at Fjord, Stockholm, as a service and experience designer. On the side, I have my own speculative design practice, where I produce films, prose, and other design artifacts. My ongoing project, “Eliza — the Ghost in Every Machine,” is a weekly cartoon that finds an AI in interesting situations. My recent world-building project, “Postcards from the Future,” has seen collaborations from across the world and has produced 30+ artifacts.

Eliza- the Ghost in Every Machine 02- created by Viraj Joshi. Source: Viraj Joshi Instagram

What’s your background, and how did it lead you to the AIxDesign intersection?

Since my master's, my practice has been centered around design with emerging tech, and AI has been a large part of it. I’ve been working with digital/physical product design and development, new product and service creation. I’m also fascinated by the artistic potential of AI.

Why are you drawn to the AIxDesign community?

I connected with Nadia Piet and got to know of the community from her socials. It’s great to connect with people who work with AI and see their practices for inspiration and getting to know events too.

Tell us more about the speculative design project that you did with Nadia!

Nadia and I worked on a speculative design film called “The Utopia Compass,” which imagines using artificial intelligence in the setting of global peacebuilding and peacemaking. We also produced a set of design principles and detailed our interactions for the same. We were featured as a special mention in the UN’s “Futuring Peace” exhibition that followed.

It was very interesting to work on artifacts and interactions at this scale!

What’s the one thing designers should understand/know about AI?

It may be crucial to rely on real-world metaphors from different places in order to design for AI; so that we tie it to physicality and give it a language to define our affordances around it.

The other thing is to know code. That’s the easy answer, I suppose.

Can you give us an example of these“metaphors”?

Whilst not AI, here’s an example from Animal Crossing, the Nintendo game. It commits relentlessly to its “deserted island getaway” metaphor. Visiting other players’ via the internet could easily have been a simple loading screen, as online multiplayer in other games often are. The choice of using affordances of “arriving” and “departing” with air travel-themed animations are carried with fierce belief that AC is not a game. It is an island getaway, through and through.

What’s the one thing AI/ML engineers should understand/know about design?

From everyone involved in creating a product or a service, designers are the only ones who champion the voice of people.

How can you incorporate ethics into the design process?

Co-creation: work with the people that you want to design for. A holistic thought: When we say we are producing a meaningful product, what do we mean? Meaningful for the planet? Meaningful for business? For one person? For a community? These definitions might bring clarity.

“The more you involve the end user in the design process, the better. Going live, and getting tangible feedback as soon as possible with prototypes gives great insight. Testing and prototyping can be used as research.”

Who inspires you at the intersection of AIxDesign?

Sougwen Chung, Imogen Heap, and GPT3 — I would love to co-write a fiction piece with it one day.

What’s your favorite day-to-day AI feature (product/service/tool/interaction)?

I use my Google Home quite a bit — it reminds me of a Star Trek future.

What’s your main fear about AI?

It seems like AI comes to us only from the larger organizations — which is odd. AI needs democratization, and designers need to know to work with it. People who know little about tech are the ones that could be exploited the most. This is a scary predicament. For example, national digital identity programs are scary without a robust infrastructure and a human rights inclination.

What do you wish you knew about AI when you got started in this field?

I’ve felt that despite a fair conceptual understanding of AI, I miss being able to be hands-on with it. Getting better at coding would be great!

What’s your dream company to work for?

Space 10 and Google ATAP

How is designing for AI different from other formats?

Designers have transitioned from industrial design in a physical world to experience design in a digital one. As we now move towards a world with AI, things get harder because it’s so amorphous, there’s no shape to it. We might find value in using AI as a material as we have done classically for other materials.

Experimentation with material is essential for producing good design with it. But getting to play with AI itself has a high barrier to entry: code. AI also requires a lot of data to make anything of it, which is hard to get hands-on and is often (understandably) locked behind protocols.

Also, it’s different in a way that results feel slightly offset from the process. It takes a while for me to train, say, an image recognition algorithm, get the results of it, and then design something around it. When compared to design in digital or physical formats, it may be considerably faster to prototype.

What’s one of your favorite examples of a well-deserved AI product?

A product that uses as little of my data as possible. Services and products that use data in a simple lean manner are much more likely to succeed. When most services gather phone numbers, email, name, address, etc., we must always ask whether this service needs to have my data to provide me what I want.

For example, for a taxi service, surely I need to write in my home address. But that should come with some checks and balances — what happens with the address? Is it only on my phone, or does it go in their database, how long should they keep it, etc.

So I don’t have an example of a “well deserved” product.

We’re still coming to terms with what’s the right amount of data to give away, the wise amount of infrastructure and laws around keeping it, etc.

If you could bring one book to a deserted island, which would it be?

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and The Neil Gaiman Reader

Book cover “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” by Philip K. Dick

Favorite podcast?

The Wired UK Podcast and No Such Thing As A Fish

Lastly, Where can we find you?

You can find me @virajvjoshi on Instagram or http://virajvjoshi.com.

This interview was conducted by Boshra Javaheri.

About AIxDesign

AIxDesign is a place to unite practitioners and evolve practices at the intersection of AI/ML and design. We are currently organizing monthly virtual events, sharing content, exploring collaborative projects, and developing fruitful partnerships.

To stay in the loop, follow us on Instagram, Linkedin, or subscribe to our monthly newsletter to capture it all in your inbox. You can now also find us at aixdesign.co.

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Exploring practices at the intersection of AI/ML and design.

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Boshra Javaheri

Boshra Javaheri

Designer and researcher passionate about people, their experiences, emotions, and interactions with AI. Get to know me better @boshra.me

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