Design Masterclass: AI and creativity

To ensure the creative thinker and designer remain essential to our progress the skills required must always be ahead of the capabilities of AI, says Tim Smallwood FFCSI

The more time passes, the more AI capabilities seem to expand into our human domain. Up to now there has been the comfortable thought that the ability of the human imagination, and through that, creativity would be safe from takeover. But now with the development of advanced visual sensing technology and software, the development of AI spatial intelligence is well within current possibilities. That is, what the AI processor “sees” through the “camera” in 2D, it will be capable of interpreting into 3D exactly in the same way that we do through our awareness of what we are looking at. The awareness capability being a combination of the sentient biological neural development and the experiential learning from birth. In AI this experiential learning is now able to be replicated through the development of ever larger language models.

So, is it possible that the precious unique human ability of imagination, is about to be replaced by an AI “machine” able to interpret what it cannot directly “see”? When we “see” something we are applying all the learned experience from birth to interpret what it is, and where it is, in space and time. An almost unique human ability is to be able to “see” something in our mind’s “eye”, in other words, imagine. This ability to imagine is what enables our creativity.

Machine learned capabilities

For a machine to be able to learn to imaginatively create, currently it will need prompting: asked questions; instructed; by an external, currently human, resource. However, as with current well-developed machine learning AI technology, even the ability to “prompt” will become a machine learned capability. But always with limitations because however large the language model resource being applied, there will always be nooks and crannies of absorbed information that have not been discovered. An addition, although reducing, flaw in the AI language model is that it “hallucinates” and produces illogical output. Although that is not necessarily the prerogative of the machine, and may even be an aspect of creativity – “where did that idea come from?” However, regardless of the effectiveness of the output, AI is not able to evaluate the human moral or ethical aspect of the AI developed idea.

So, there is hope that the truly creative mind will always have a role to play in the development of ideas that will power our future. But it does mean that those who regularly design by repeating existing, past solutions, will certainly be at risk of being replaced by an AI algorithm. And it will not be long before the AI machine that replaces the designer will be a less threatening humanoid robot able to interact with the team with simulated emotional and experiential responses rather than a black box. It is sobering to think that at this stage designers will not be replaced by these humanoid robots quite so soon only because they cost too much.

To make sure that the creative thinker and designer remains essential to our progress the skills required always need to be ahead of the capabilities of AI. To do this the designer will need to harness, and then exceed all the limited capabilities that AI is able to offer. Fortunately, even into the future AI will never have the sense of purpose of humans, common sense, or the ability to achieve perceptual tasks. It may be capable of using the brute force of scale to create amazing images but will not understand the content of the image.

The reality threshold

In the defence of human creativity always being necessary, however well-developed machine learning becomes, it will never be capable of replacing critical thinking; analysing and making reliable decisions based on evidence and logic. The machine is unable to make causal links in the input data in the same way as the human brain because correlation does not always imply causation, which in turn may reduce capacity for precise prediction by AI when causality is critical to the design decision. The brain will distinguish between perceived and imagined mental images by checking whether they cross a “reality threshold”.

Human creativity thrives on empathy, collaboration and shared experiences. The continual development of these attributes together with the ability for critical thinking; all things that machines cannot replicate; are essential for the professional development of the consultant. Human creativity thrives on empathy, collaboration and shared experiences, and by ensuring that this connection between the consultant and client is always maintained, there will be little room for AI to add to the end result other than to crunch the data. Understanding the Human Experience (UX) will always be an essential competency for the foodservice consultant.

Tim Smallwood

(No AI algorithm was used or harmed in the development of these thoughts.)