The role of Designers and Strategists essentially consists of taking decisions on issues and contexts that are complex and dynamic. In these contexts, there is no perfect solution. They are open to multiple answers and their impact cannot be completely predicted.
Take these simple examples. What would be the best chair? What would be the best go-to-market strategies? The answers would depend on a vast amount of variables, different for each specific situation and influenced by factors like available resources, goals, needs, skills, cultural and economic context, time and place.
Designers and Strategists make use of their flexible and integrative minds to come up with good answers. Such role is not limited to people who have these job titles, it also encompasses to some extent the activities of every professional.
To better understand the impact and implications of Artificial Intelligence on their role, let us take a look at the following topics.
In the recent decades, humanity is taking bigger and bigger steps towards the creation of true artificial intelligence [AI]. While there is no clear agreement on what ‘true AI’ actually means, let us consider it as artificial agents that go beyond the replication of pre-programmed tasks.
Our current position in the AI evolution has blurry borders. We are somewhere between DeepBlue [a computer designed by IBM in the 90’s that acquired worldwide fame by beating few times the chess genius Garry Kasparov] and self-aware machines that can think and be creative by themselves.
What we have now are machines that learn and can take successful decisions out of it.
They are different from DeepBlue, because it was created with the purpose of playing chess. Through high-speed calculations, algorithms and data about chess, DeepBlue was able to play it skillfully but would face strong limitations on trying other kinds of tasks that even your smartphone could do, like voice recognition. In addition, it’s worth mentioning that even in such limited space [the board and rules of chess] the human mind still was able to guarantee some victories [thanks to Kasparov].
At the same time, our intelligent machines are not self-aware and do not have the creativity and inventiveness of the human mind. This seems to be the future, though. Inspirations of this level of AI can be found in science fiction, in works like Chappie, I, Robot, Matrix Reloaded’s Agent Smith and even Pinocchio [who just wanted to be a ‘real boy’].
In 2014, Google acquired DeepMind, a startup that built at that time ‘a computer that mimics the short-term memory of the human brain’. Well… it learns.
Recently this company showed the power of its computer system beating the European Go champion Fan Hui five times, without losing a single match. Go is a Chinese game extremely more complex and sophisticated than chess but the main aspect here is that the computer was not programmed to play Go.
Its neural networks used a huge amount of data [30 million moves from games played by human experts] and practiced against itself on a reinforcement loop to learn and improve its skills.
Artificial agents are more and more able to interpret and deal with ultra-complex contexts, creating effective outcomes.
We might think: Well, they still need a lot of data and, after all, real-world data are not mere pieces on a game board, right?! Or no?!
This is when the Internet of Things joins the party. We will see in the near future a tremendous evolution on how design research is made.
Two aspects will be strongly impacted:
A network of diversified, distributed and connected sensors will provide valuable data about stakeholders’ journeys. People’s behaviors and feelings will be tracked and analyzed by platforms that will be much cheaper, present and less invasive than human researchers.
Capturing and analyzing data about existing solutions will be improved by smarter platforms as well. Notes, photos, videos, and recordings will still be at the service of Designers and Strategists, but will also leverage on technologies that could process them. Expect to see solutions like a super-smart Evernote, to capture and analyze different kinds of inputs.
Such platforms will be capable of learning how to interpret these inputs. Therefore, they will be flexible and applicable to a variety of contexts, finding patterns and, as important, what lies outside patterns.
This approach will find its place since it is not appropriate for every research challenge. Designers, Strategists, and Marketers will learn when and where to use it while high-tech research companies will become solid partners on this matter.
Not going too far on utopian or dystopian [Elon Musk compares AI efforts to “Summoning the Demon”] futures for AI, we can safely say that these platforms will be able to interpret existing and new concepts according to patterns of people’s behaviors and feelings.
This outcome will be crucial for professionals who design and develop products, services, and strategies. By balancing their creativity with data-driven insights, the act of creation for professional purposes will be widely improved.
It is expected that these machines will develop their ‘own ideas’ based on previous analyses, as some are already doing [AlphaGo trial-and-error reinforcement learning’, ‘Google’s artificial intelligence reinventing paintings’, ‘Generating Stories about Images’] and simulate their relevance for people.
Maybe our new Pinocchio will actually become a ‘real boy’ when he starts to lie and invent some stories on his own.
Designers and Strategists will continue to be essential.
Since the urge for innovation is born in people’s minds, Designers and Strategists will help them to translate these blurry ideas into accomplishable challenges. They will be indispensable to frame and reframe questions and answers to sparkle new possibilities. They will define how the research should be made. Enhanced by the use of all these technologies, they will create novel solutions, which will be brought to life only by entrepreneurial and experimental efforts of real people.
It is an exciting time to live and to design.