Prayas Abhinav: How do you think humans and machines can collaborate in a design-oriented process?

Priyamvada: Today we have reached a point where a human and a machine are more compatible than two humans together.

In various fields including design, machines have been used just to achieve the end product. But now, in the design process, machines are a part of the creative process right from the beginning. Machines can collaborate with designers and not merely serve them. For example, a human brain has its limitations defined on the basis of what it has been exposed to and the way it has been able to process the information available to it to develop iterations.

Machine design (the process of designing a machine) itself has continuously evolved towards making machines more human-friendly and supportive towards interactions between machines and humans.

Machines are no longer dumbly waiting for our instructions. They can now help designers in processing and be iterating on creative thoughts in more than one way.

Priyamvada:  What do you think is the future of design now when technology is such a big part of almost every design effort?

Prayas: Although humans and machines are good at different kinds of things (for instance humans can extrapolate more easily in a non-linear man or lateral manner but machines can extrapolate on the basis of statistical patterns), we still have to conceptualise design processes where each of us is playing to our strengths. The future of design is very fragile and delicate at this moment. This is because we haven’t imagined ways in which we can work alongside machines and not against them.

This “imagination gap” can be filled in the following way:

1) Our design language or aesthetic system should be informed by data rather than be primarily based on intuition and personal style

2) Measurement, data mining and analytics – especially how changes in design strategies are parsed by our senses – need to become familiar concepts for every design process

3) Machine learning and computer-aided iteration can offer designers a good handle on being able to make more well-informed guesses

Prayas: You spoke of reaching a point where “human and a machine are more compatible than two humans together,” would you like to elaborate more and maybe illustrate this point further. Am very curious.

Priyamvada: Alright so I’ll try to explain what I meant when I said that a human and a machine are more compatible than two humans together.

For simplicity’s sake let’s consider a person and his or her smartphone. Why is that relationship stronger and more compatible? The person here understands the possibilities and limitations of his phone and is alright with it. Understands what the phone can or cannot do.

In this two-sided relationship, machines make us more equipped, powerful and we as humans are continuously making our machines better.

To elaborate further, I would like to draw your attention to your own chatbots which you are developing for creative and design thinking. One might find it more useful to discuss a design process with that chatbot rather than with a friend who has no idea or interest in your method of thinking.

A lot of design ideas never make their way forward because they are ridiculed by one of your peers at an early stage. A machine-as-a-conversation-agent would never do that. When it comes to following your thought and helping you process it further, a machine could play a more reliable and predictable role than someone who is biased against you.

We have no ego problems with machines because we generally consider machines as an assistive extension of ourselves and not our competition.

Priyamvada: I would also like you to know your personal thoughts on what can chat-bots like yours and other such systems and machines contribute to the design fraternity?

Prayas: A chatbot is a conversational machine and is not unlike a well-trained actor who has learnt his/her lines well. Eventually, the actor and the chatbot both are reflecting the sensibilities of the author only. Such systems are forms of interactive fiction (IF) which have a history of at least a few decades if not more.

The significance of an IF machine or a conversational machine is that interactions can become more nuanced and less didactic. Things only need to be revealed when they are queried and not before. So the entire story does not have to be revealed at one go and can be revealed to the extent to which the audience has been able to process and make meaning of the previously revealed story. This approach not just allows the audience to invest more time and attention for each specific segment of the story but it also allows the author of the story to author each segment of it with the appropriate intensity.

In a regular human interaction, we are not able to isolate and delay the threads of intensity that we encounter in each other. We have to deal with the whole of each other or not engage at all. Conversation machines change this. So, a person whom we find too intense to engage with personally might not come across as so intense in the form of a chat-bot. This can fundamentally change the nature of our social experience.

Prayas: With specific reference to mobile phones, I would like to ask you why you consider a person and a machine (that is in turn designed by a person) any different from each other?

Priyamvada: As I say machines are an extension of humans. It is a sign of our intelligence that such extensions are possible. But this isn’t a debate about who is more intelligent. It is to know the difference between the two. Imagination is one such difference.

Machines are everything that we either couldn’t do or took too long to do it. But it’s everything that we could think of and imagine.

We cannot store information in the same way as a computer and fetch it back with the same speed. A machine can decode information, process it faster, calculate, fetch data and present but only that it can access.

Imagination, perception, the experience of the world using all our five senses, consciousness, judgments based on emotional understanding and many many other characteristics and properties that make a human and a person different from one another. But the two compliment each other.

Priyamvada: Apart from all the differences and similarities between human and machine; What do you think is of concern and relevance in the collaborative-potential of the two in the forthcoming future of our society’s design effort?

Prayas: Commonly the matter of machine capability is still not understood widely enough. And more than brute force, machines do not play a very significant part in shaping human culture and potential. In the days to come, the collaboration between human and machine will explore new territory in terms of the nuance of style and depth of engagement. For instance in medical imaging, the way humans are understanding how our brains work is extending our notions of how we imagine the existence of our own consciousness. In this example, the machines that we engineer ourselves are extending our own understanding of what we can do. So, in short, my bet is that the future of human-machine collaboration is definitely going to involve biology, chemistry and electronics – that is the mixture of hardware, software and wetware.