AI technology existed and was prevalent in our society long before the pandemic started. But, like many emergent technologies, it took a not-so-gentle nudge (Covid-19) to begin to bring its application to bear. Rushed-to-scale, the great AI experiment produced mixed results but troves of data. In some cases, the implementation of the still immature AI technology was successful [retail automation}; In other cases, it did not live up to the hype [outbreak detection}. In every case, we would argue, accelerated the Age of AI. Why? Because in a moment of pressing need, it gave AI developers a unique opportunity to fail fast and fail often. Sound familiar? It is the agile approach to perfecting a solution, and if AI is a puzzle to be solved--the world just found its corner piece.
Where We Were: Pre-Pandemic AI
It is easy to imagine AI as a far-flung fantasy: complex and astounding. But when you think about Artificial Intelligence as an umbrella term that really just means “machines doing tasks that would otherwise require human intelligence,” its widespread uses in pre-pandemic society become immediately apparent. Netflix movie recommendations, chatbots, and dating apps are all versions of something classified as reactive AI. There are, in fact, four primary classifications for AI: reactive, limited memory, theory of mind, and self-aware. From an overly simplified perspective, you can think of each of these classifications as levels to be mastered (respectively) on the way to the ultimate goal of creating self-aware or sentient AI. That’s the theory anyway.
Thrust into desperate times with relaxed regulation, AI-enabled teams jumped into action, seizing a long-awaited chance to prove (in real-life scenarios) what they already knew: AI will change our world. Just how fast it would change the world throughout 2020-2022, nobody could have predicted. How much more change is coming remains to be seen, but one would be wise to wager a lot.
Where We Are Headed: AI
Thrust into desperate times with relaxed regulation, AI-enabled teams jumped into action, seizing a long-awaited chance to prove (in real-life scenarios) what they already knew: AI will change our world. Just how fast it would change the world throughout 2020-2022, nobody could have predicted. How much more change is coming remains to be seen, but one would be wise to wager a lot. The dots are being connected faster than ever. A new picture of the future is coming into focus. The development of AI technologies propelled several years, if not decades, ahead means GenX and Millennials may now live to see developments that were beyond the scope of their lifespan before. Whether mankind is ready or not, the Age of AI Acceleration is here. As product designers, it is our job to ready AI to meet humanity. And, to do so, we must think long and hard about the world our innovations will be changing.
The Future of AI Must Be Human-Centered
To the passive observer, artificial intelligence appears to be cognitive. It is not. As industrial engineers, programmers, and product designers, we know behind every self-driving car and face detector is really just a mountain of commands and codes. We understand that even if AI can perform some tasks like or better than humans--it is still only a construct: an illusion driven by an algorithm created by a human. This reality calls for a human-centered and, more importantly, a diverse approach to creating and programming these machines. Considering the already homogenous nature of tech, programming, engineering, and industrial design--this is a big ask. Smart technologies are all but assured to engender biased outcomes without some level of input variegation. Therefore, given the current diversity restraints in the AI development industries, product designers must rely that much more on human-centered design to help ease the shock of AI integration into society. For all the opportunities AI delivers us, it will also bring a flurry of consequences: intended or not. Therefore, we must be prepared to hedge this windfall of opportunities using thoughtful HCD for the betterment of humankind.
The AI Opportunity
Opportunities to innovate some of the most exciting technologies in all of human history are a gift to this generation of product designers. Artificial intelligence is predicted to be a more significant disruptor than anything else in the history of humanity: fire, electricity, and the internet, notwithstanding. Industry mavericks will rise and fall based on the breadth and the pace of their adoption of AI. Organizations that reinvent themselves by funding and integrating AI into the core of their organizations will advance. Those who do not will be left behind. This is true for several, if not most, industries in the long term. In the short term, however, some niches are blinking red as beacons for disruption, or rather, continued disruption post-pandemic.
In our next “Age of AI Acceleration” blog, we will explore the industries most affected by the pandemic and, therefore, ripe for new product innovation. We will also look at the emergence of “no-code” AI and why this specific trend necessitates an immediate conversation and even legislation around AI ethics.