Analog Computing Machine (1949)

Rethinking The Design Of Our Interaction With AI​

A Participatory Conversation

Kiproula Bartzoka
re(s)public collective
6 min readDec 9, 2019


re(s)public in an interdisciplinary research collective. As a group we rethink the narratives of space and its related disciplines through critical design, fine arts and architecture. We aim at bridging disciplines and looking beyond the scission of academia, business and art. We believe that in the intersection of these worlds lays the inspiration and the creation of value. We believe in conversation, in learning through making, and we believe in the future. Our work offers space for reflection on art and creative practice through research.

A reflection

Why is it crucial for humans to imagine the possible future of coexistence with AI and steer it towards their own benefit? Why we should rethink the design of our interaction with AI?

I would like to address these questions with a historical fact. In 1912, in a house in Palo Alto, California the first electronics were made. Lee de Forest with his colleagues managed to make use of the vacuum tube in order to augment sound. All the electronic computers but also other inventions as radio and television were based on this technology (Thayer Watkins, n.d.). That’s how Silicon Valley started as a center for research and technology innovation. It seemed very promising, a possible utopia for the future. But speaking about today, we came to the point when the people working for a small amount of companies shape with invisible ways a great amount of people’s lives. For example, the big companies these companies say that their algorithms are ‘neutral’, but as a Joy Buolamwini, who graduated from the MIT Media Lab and is founder of the Algorithmic Justice League, explains, “bias get built into the algorithms used to decide where people will get a loan, receive insurance, or go to college”. [1] As Paul Pangaro (2018) also stated in one of his interviews “The values behind these companies are technical, not humane. And until they are, we will become the product rather than the user of the product”. [2]

There might be something more decisive than the power of these companies to steer people’s lives: people lack awareness of their potential influence on the technological advancements and so they seem unable to make a change.

So, what about the future? When it comes to technology’s rapid revolution, relevant literature raises a lot of issues around the impact of AI, building an argument about possible utopian or dystopian scenarios regarding the future. More specifically a big part of the literature focuses on polarized opinions over AI’s possibilities based on a misunderstanding of what AI can do today and about the options people have in order to shape a desirable future. In other words, the argument is mostly about the tool itself, and not so much about who, how and in what context this tool is used.


As AI evolves it cannot be perceived just as a technology. It becomes a part of our world. Professionals from different disciplines attempt to apply this promising tool in order to provide us with intelligent objects, services and assistants. But, are we really speaking about intelligence? Are we aware of the entire anatomy of AI systems? Intelligence requires reasoning and understanding [3] and AI is not there yet.

Intelligence is the vision, but today we can only speak about machine learning systems that automatically discover patterns and attempt to make estimates.

The role of designers

At the same time, design evolves, and designers aim to create advanced user experiences by incorporating AI into their products and services. In order to master this tool, first we must ask ourselves: are these advancements aligned with what people consider meaningful? Is the quantification of every aspect of an individual enough to understand them and support their needs?

In response to “algorithm-ization” of so many parts of our lives, we should examine our current perspectives of our interaction with algorithms, towards adding a new qualitative layer into the design process of products using these algorithms. People should not be treated as inputs but as changing complex beings [4].

Existing machine learning approaches aspire to create a quantification of our emotional and physical world. All forms of data are extracted from people to train AI datasets, claiming that they capture a deeper understanding of human nature, but they just repeat normative social patterns of the past projecting them into our future [5]. Simultaneously, this data extraction is accomplished and controlled by a few global companies. Do these companies consider human values and human agency? What is the role of designers in the chain of AI products/services creation? Where/how is the link between the designer and the end-user established?

Current Interaction
Towards a more valuable interaction

Looking further into the future, designers might eventually become behavior or system designers. Then, their purpose should be to steer the behavior of systems by setting appropriate goals and parameters for algorithms [6].

For these reasons, research into alternative ways of thinking around the design of AI products/services is urgent. Designers should rethink their existing approaches taking into consideration the challenges this new reality evokes.

This research is a first attempt towards this direction, by considering the aim of second-order design which is to provide the appropriate environment in which others can design [7]. Through a participatory conversation, it attempts to indicate the goals of this environment to increase the number of choices and available actions, hence human agency.

A participatory conversation

To find out more about the interdisciplinary and cross-cultural work that we do at re(s)public collective visit our website under See our projects or get to know our members. We also send out a newsletter on a regural base. You can sign up for it here.

[1] AI Algorithmic Justice Leage:

[2 ] Paul Pangaro, “ Cybernetics and systems thinking “:

[3] Oxford Learner’s Dictionary:

[4] Lee Raine and Janna Anderson, Code-Dependent: Pros and Cons of the Algorithm Age, (2017):

[5] Kate Crawford and Vladan Joler, Anatomy of an AI system, (2008):

[6] Yury Vetrov, Algorithm-Driven Design: How Artificial Intelligence Is Changing Design, (2017):

[7] Hugh Dubberly and Paul Pangaro, Design Cybernetics, Chapter 3: Cybernetics and Design: Conversations for Action, (2019):