Design Masterclass: Change is with us, whether we like it or not

It’s hard to anticipate what the future holds. But the expanding power of AI will most certainly have the potential to disrupt how we go about the business that we think we know, argues Tim Smallwood FFCSI

Staff, with habits formed by a lifetime working in the typical kitchen, always find it hard to transition to a new more controlled process approach to their way of working using. As has been previously commented, for most in the past, change has been the replacement of a worn-out piece of equipment with a shiny new one – as similar to the old as possible.  Suddenly now we are all going to be faced with real change. As designers, in the way in which we go about the process of design and, as clients and operators, how we adapt to changing processes. For all, what will be the opportunities and risks that will emerge from technologies that emerge from AI.

As designers this is not like the evolutionary way that we have developed; documenting projects using Revit and BIM or explaining a concept to a client using Walk-thru 3D or Augmented Reality. These changes require us to actually imagine fundamental possibilities, both opportunities and risks, for our way of delivering new projects.

Transforming business

In the same way clients and operators are being challenged. It is more than the incremental change from manual recording to automatic data logging, or the remote programming of equipment and diagnostics or even dining-in to UberEats; now the possibility is that AI may completely transform the way that the business operates to keep relevant. The problem is that it’s hard to anticipate what the future holds. It’s an awareness that the expanding power of AI will most certainly have the potential to disrupt how we go about the business that we think we know.

What we do know is that clients and customers will have the expectation of being able to benefit from the inevitable innovations made possible by emerging AI technologies, just as soon as they are made aware of them. Which is to say, the consultant has to be ahead of the game at all times. Certainly there is a major segment of the global foodservice industry that will remain a fully engaged people business. But even they will find, as in fact they already have found, that interaction with the B2B supply chains on the input side of their business can be impacted by these inevitable AI disruptions.

Initially what will inevitably happen is that all businesses in the foodservices industry, from designers to food growers; from equipment manufacturers to IT companies will each be working in their silos to see how they can use these technologies for their individual benefit. The opportunity for real change will come from those businesses that are able to effectively sort through and identify those AI innovations with potential for integration with others into a new model of service.

The process and ability to sort through and evaluate the potential for each of the individual technological advances to be integrated into a single platform will be the challenge. This will be as much because each AI innovator will be resistant to sharing enough information to enable effective evaluation, as it will the ability to identify individual AI innovations in order to analyse the volume of disparate data to understand potential links between them.

Sifting through the known unknowns

In theory the question could be asked of the new generative AI such as GPT-4. However at this stage they are limited by their data cutoff dates (currently September 2021). Even now they are able to compute all this known information and able to be used to explore known unknowns almost instantly. However the designer’s intuition will still be needed to imagine what these various advances might be able to achieve before generative AI or machine learning can be applied to discover where there are links. It will not be the “known unknowns” that will discover the next generation disruptive model but chancing upon a completely “unknown unknown”.

The instructions the designer gives and the questions they ask the generative AI, and keep refining, are the first step in the journey of discovery. We remain in control, but to chance upon and recognise an unknown possibility requires our imagination and intuition free of constraints. The designer with capacity to develop ideas, “free of constraints” will continue to be the source of real innovation. With developments in AI neural networks it may become possible in time for the system to be prompted to illogical conclusions that could lead to the next disruptive model (i.e.: making known what was previously unknown). The next level of the GPT-4 large language model makes responses that suggests it has a “theory of mind” or “the ability to attribute mental states such as beliefs, emotions, desires intentions and knowledge of oneself and others” (research paper “Sparks of Artificial Intelligence: early Experiments with GPT-4” S. Bubeck et al Cornell). In other words the same mental processes that the designer uses to come up with an idea.

AI makes possible connections between an infinitesimal number of knowns. To establish the potential for applying AI, the professional kitchen designer must clearly define a need and benefit (“it would be really useful if we could ….”.) and then adopt the mentality of a Start-up to respond with speed, courage and flexibility. Apply the prototyping approach, test, fail, adjust, test again. In this new age, caution will not protect you in the long run from competition: agility is essential.

Getting the team buy-in

In the process of discovering change we must not lose sight of people, both those who work in the team as well as those who we work for. To empower the team to achieve more through applying AI, they must have buy-in. To avoid team members being fearful of the change, will require engaging them in the excitement of the journey from the start, encouraging feedback and involvement as part of their professional development.

The next question for the designer and consultant will be what are the next steps for the foodservice industry? How might AI be used to discover real disruptive change? Welcome to change in a bold new world.

Tim Smallwood FFCSI

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