Magazine article AI Magazine

Design and Intelligent Machines

Magazine article AI Magazine

Design and Intelligent Machines

Article excerpt

Many are interested in the design of intelligent machines. I am interested in design and how intelligent machines can transform this human endeavor in positive ways. I would like us to renew our consideration of some of the fundamental questions from the field of artificial intelligence, questions about human creativity and agency, in the context of design.


Various leading figures have recently been warning that the future of humanity is threatened by the rise of artificial intelligence or by superintelligent --even self-aware--machines of our own design. These forebodings envision machines that, in the pursuit of their own goals, ultimately dominate or extinguish their creators. But while much ink has been spilled on the prospect of manufacturing monsters beyond our control, surprisingly little attention has been focused on the actual challenge of designing machines that seamlessly integrate even a few of our leading technologies into a smoothly operating everyday device, much less create a self-aware, internally motivated, hegemonistic intelligence.

The fact is, despite enormous individual engineering advances in recent years, we remain woefully inadequate when it comes to the art of design--the enigmatic and still largely unautomated process of synthesizing multiple elements into final products. If anything, we should be not afraid of what we are designing but rather accelerating our efforts in the domain of design--in part to design machines that can, in turn, help us become better designers.

Herbert Simon, who in 1978 was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics for his work on bounded rationality and organizational behavior, argued that design is the activity that most fundamentally makes us human. In his seminal work, The Sciences of the Artificial, Simon states that every person is, at heart, a designer, and that the art of design elevates us all.

Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones. The intellectual activity that produces material artifacts is no different fundamentally from the one that prescribes remedies for a sick patient or the one that devises a new sales plan for a company or a social welfare policy for a state. Design, so construed, is the core of all professional training; it is the principal mark that distinguishes the professions from the sciences. Schools of engineering, as well as schools of architecture, business, education, law, and medicine, are all centrally concerned with the process of design. (Simon 1996)

The modern world is the product of design. From the social systems we have for governments and corporations, to our physical infrastructure, to the artifacts of everyday life, design is all around us. Yet our processes of design today are largely unchanged from those of a millennium ago, when the Republic of Venice established the Arsenale, a factory of unprecedented scale and organization that foreshadowed the innovations of the industrial revolution. Early concepts for interchangeable parts, the assembly line, and the organizational division of labor and process optimization all were part of the design and manufacturing process in this ancient Venetian shipyard.

Today's innovations in robotics, advanced materials and additive manufacturing require newer and more creative design processes, enabling an entirely new kind of Arsenale--an Arsenale in which computers work as our creative partners. Such a partnership would augment human design capabilities and enable us to envision radically different solutions to our problems. For example, traditional design divides functionality in a hierarchical manner. Nature does not work this way: Just as the bird's wing is designed to generate lift but also harvest energy and create thrust, today's design opportunities are those that integrate mechanical, electrical, optical, and thermodynamic features with multiple behaviors and interactions across different physics domains. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.