2018 Austin Startup Week: AI Sessions @ Galvanize

A Conversation about AI and Design

Thanks to Austin Startup Week and my panel host, Charlie Burgoyne, for posing these questions and providing a space for open conversation and imagination.

Jennifer Aue
Oct 4, 2018 · 10 min read

Q (Charlie): It’s 2038, the cover of Wired features a top designer. What do they say about how their work has changed over the last 20 years?

A (Me): Good design is good design, regardless of the medium. Bringing our understanding of concepts like hierarchy, contrast, grid, tension, pacing, etc. to a more abstract space won’t change that.

Experiments in data visualization by artist Aaron Koblin.

We need to bridge the gap between the scientists writing the algorithms, the results users want, and the results they didn’t realize they needed.

Beyond that, design will shift it’s focus from creating functional forms and delivering Q&A type transactions to building relationships. This will bring people onto our teams with backgrounds in linguistics, writing, journalism, maybe even improvisational comedy, actors, or psychologists. It will force designers to start thinking in terms of space, time, and emotion.

What’s also interesting about your question is the date you’ve chosen, which puts this person in a new generation of designers who are just now entering the workforce. Specifically, Generation Z.

An unexpected observation I’ve made in working with these students is that their priorities, the way they relate to technology, and their ideas for where they want to see it evolve are different — better — than the current working generations.

Problems like bias and privacy that currently plague us are rooted in culture and history. Younger people are starting from a place of valuing equality and acceptance. Their ideas for where technology is heading directly reflect that. How they relate to their devices and apps is more fluid. They have a tendency to simply put these issues down as things of the past and focus on higher aspirations, largely on bringing deeper understanding between humans by enhancing how we communicate.

Q: Is a general AI possible and if so, what role does design play in testing it, i.e. should the Turing test incubate design?

By “general AI” you mean machines that can understand, reason, and learn — what is also known as strong AI—a machine that can basically do everything a human can do.

This is also referred to as the beginning of the singularity, which is estimated to happen within the next 45—50 years.

Ray Kurzweil: The Coming Singularity
Ray Kurrzweil, “How to Create a Mind”
Intel presents Neuromorphic Computing at CES 2018
Intel advertisement for biologically inspired computer chips

Q: How does the general public’s perception of AI affect their expectations of product design? Do we need and expect smart blenders?

We expect what we see on movie screens and read in sci-fi novels, and I love that that’s where are minds are with this. The arts are, and should always be, where we envision new worlds and inspire innovation. Without those expectations, we’ll never reach such lofty goals.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Q: How does AI impact physical space design?

There are two sides to that question—how we design environments, as well as how AI integrates into our environments.

Q: How does adaptive design come into play and where do we see it today?

So, let’s be clear about what you mean by “adaptive”. I believe you’re describing a higher level of what today we call “responsive” design—design that can adapt to the device it’s being channeled through. For example, a website that changes from what you see on your laptop to an optimized view with prioritized functionality on your phone.

So what’s the most important thing designers can do right now to learn how to design for AI?

The human mind is the most sophisticated piece of technology on the planet. It makes sense that, as a society, we are determined to discover how it works and imagining ways to turn those findings into new solutions. Luckily, every single one of us has our own testing lab sitting atop our shoulders. Every mind is uniquely formed, differently wired, and can shed light on our quest to understand how it the brain works.

If you want to design and build AI, begin by observing, testing, and understanding the inner workings of your own mind.

IBM Design

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