AI: Do we really “get it”?

April 13, 2023 in Product design

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past few months, you've likely heard the term AI over and over again. In fact, it seems there's a new AI tool everyday promising to revolutionize our lives — or to take our jobs. People like Elon Musk and Steve Wozniak are now calling for a halt in the development of new AI tools as they fear AI is evolving too fast. Being the contradiction he often is, Elon still believes that Tesla should be able to incorporate AI-powered features into its cars. 🤷‍♂️ 

Italy has recently banned the usage of ChatGPT due to concerns about potential misuse and Germany may be next to follow. While I’m not sure this is the right way to deal with technological advances like AI, considering things like the Steve Jobs voice demo, it’s hard to argue that there aren’t dangers ahead.

From a designer's perspective, AI is expected to perform many task we used to labor over. Writing copy, creating images based on our prompts, and even creating a fully functioning website are just on the horizon.

However, there's also no denying that AI will have a huge impact on our lives and our relationship with the technology we use. That said, I'm not convinced that AI will take our jobs and make us feel worthless. In the book "Four Thousand Weeks", the author discusses how when washing machines, dishwashers, and vacuums became common in households, housewives (sigh) would have more free time since their chores were now more efficient. However, a few years later, that leisure time disappeared. Why? Because our idea of what constituted a clean house or well-ironed shirts had shifted. Houses were supposed to be cleaner, shirts better ironed, and dishes even shinier.

Similar to the 1960s housewives, we expect AI to take on the mundane parts of our work and increase our efficiency. However, I believe we are overlooking a crucial aspect of what these tedious tasks entail.

Why write an essay when you can type a few words and have AI generate one for you? Why write an email when AI can auto-respond for you with all the typical pleasantries and talking-points?

While AI doing these things for you is likely to happen, it’s not necessarily a good thing. Even when these tools exist, they are not a replacement for writing.

Writing is the process by which you realize that you do not understand what you are talking about. Importantly, writing is also the process by which you figure it out.Why write

Whether it's writing or designing, cooking or cleaning, there are aspects of our work that can be defined as tedious. Like with a workout, it's doing the hard, repetitive work now in order to achieve better results later. It's probably a cultural “sign of the times” that whatever ease we can have now is worth more than the benefit later. It seems like we haven't improved since the famous marshmallow experiment.

Rick Rubin highlights something else, that our work is not just the final product, but the energy contained in the work. Our work is our intentions and our (failed and succeeded) experiments;

Our thoughts, feelings, processes, and unconscious beliefs have an energy that is hidden in the work. This unseen, unmeasurable force gives each piece its magnetism. A completed project is only made up of our intention and our experiments around it. Remove intention and all that's left is the ornamental shell.

Though the artist may have a number of goals and motivations, there is only one intention. This is the grand gesture of the work.The Creative Act by Rick Rubin

What does all of this mean?

Undoubtedly, AI will significantly transform our jobs, society, and relationships with technology. As the saying goes, "writing is the process by which you realize that you do not understand what you are talking about," and it's clear to me that I lack a deep understanding of AI. Right now, the internet seems to be full of self-proclaimed AI experts, but I doubt we’re at a point where we can accurately predict the changes that may occur.

I'm not afraid of the changes AI will bring. I don't know what they are yet. I'm also not yet inspired and amazed by the possibilities of AI because I can't wrap my head around them either. I know people like Salma Aboukar will influence what product photography means. Imagine having the ability to update product photography on the fly or personalize it for each individual visitor with very little friction through AI. Simply put… until I gain more knowledge, I'll continue to follow people like Linus in order to explore what I don't know or understand.

It’s honest, authentic, and accessible.

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