To Design is to Be Human

In as much as it is human nature to be curious of the world we live in and attempt to craft solutions for the problems we encounter both big and small, one could say that to be a Designer is to give in to the better (or at least more constructive) tendencies of ourselves. In other words, one could say that to design is to simply be that which we are; human beings.

Design represents the toolkit we are endowed with from inception, indeed from our collective origin on Earth, which both drives our ambition to improve everything and enables us to do so. There are disciplines - the sciences, education, exploration, meditation and religion - that are all components of the design toolkit but comprise only the contemplation and experimentation aspects until creation begins, until we transform the data into action; until we begin to design.

Design is also the human ode to our own beginning. An ode to that which contemplated our existence and brought the idea of humanity to life. That which continues to alter us, improve us, reconfigure us and elude us. Human evolution is the ultimate design in the context of our collective experience and it occurs as though we are the subject of scientific experimentation ourselves, with and without our direct input; evolution is cosmic design at work and it is in our nature to mimic the universe's compulsion to iterate - to improve - to create new artifacts in the void for the sake of creating and designing schemes that simplify systems to the point of ultimate efficiency; to the point of extinction. [The Terminator - Official Trailer [1984]

When our seven-year-old grandson takes his Nona and I on a journey through the annals of 2nd grade logic to a reality in which he has zero culpability for anything - anything at all, ever - he is designing a system around his own desired experience. Where he lacks research on expected outcomes, the user interface (UI) is, for him, navigable and the user experience (UX) is... well, user experience is unpredictable sometimes and Nona doesn't have time for that mess.

At a recent digital technology conference, [] the prevailing topic of discussion was the future of machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI). Humanity is rushing forward in pursuit of machines that can exceed our own intellect in ways that we have yet to even conceive. Most are doing so with the intent of designing an automated system of service wherein machines predict our wants and needs, and are capable of autonomously "designing" desired human experiences by accessing and acting upon deep data.

There is also a subset of AI development that is curious to see if machines can create spontaneously, without prompting from or by reacting to humans. Can machines be designed to be the Designers? If this is possible (and frankly on a pure feasibility level I now believe it is), will machines design useful or beautiful objects, or will they move swiftly to systems design and discover that humans are more efficient as a labor or fuel source? [The Matrix - Official Trailer [1999]

After absorbing the data on what is possible and practical today, and what will be achievable within five, ten and twenty years, I've come to a conclusion that comforts me against the apocalyptic predictions of Hollywood and a few pessimistic futurists I've encountered.

To Design is to be a human being.

Whatever wonders machines are ultimately able to conceive of and create (and trust me the ingenuity will be transformative), the outcomes will be directly attributable to human curiosity, human ambition; human design.

Intelligent machines are the human ode to ourselves. An ode to that which contemplated the existence of a service society of mechanical and digital counterparts, and brought the idea of AI to life. The evolution of artificial intelligence is the ultimate design achievable by humanity in the context of our collective experience. 

We are, collectively, the seven-year-old designing a system around her own desired experience. We have no idea what the outcome will be and can barely grasp what we expect to come from artificial intelligence. It's beyond difficult to research the future. We do know that we expect the machines to tell us what Is possible and to collaborate with us in designing a UI. The UX? Well, user experience is unpredictable but we have all the time in the world to figure out that mess.

As long as humans exist, Design will persist.

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