Sarah Hoffman: How has the landscape of design tools changed over the last few years?
Lydia Chilton: We're seeing a lot of design tools and technology become more collaborative and easier to share. Just as we saw with documents and spreadsheets 10 years ago, we’ve realized how important it is to have this velocity of ideas, especially when working remotely. That ability to have work shared and online with the cloud is important. Ten to fifteen years ago this was in research. Cue the cloud and now it's here. That’s how long it takes for a good idea to get built out so that it's stable.
As for specific design and creativity tools, we haven't seen them hit applications quite yet. You'll see a little bit here and there, but we've only been on this path for three or four years now. However, things are moving very quickly. I think it will take 5 to 10 years before we see them. The things that are coming out in artificial intelligence papers are quite robust, compared to five years ago. It is steadily getting better and that's the first step that we need to see on the path to being something you use because, as end users, we want things that work.
And that's why Google does Smart Compose. They are very conservative about what they're going to have you type… it's got to be right and not trigger a bunch of crazy things. Because those crazy things derail you and get you out of your flow. I think it's going to get better and more reliable. We've got to find out exactly how to introduce it in the workflow. Then I think we will start to see shapes and design tools over the next five years and at first it will be slow and subtle, just like Smart Compose. But that's good. It’s not as if we’re going to have this feature and it’s all going to rain down on us…rather it's going to be one small step until, suddenly, “oh yeah we use this all the time”, like calculators being introduced. Right now, we all use computers, but first there were just big ones for very specialized purposes. That's just how technologies unfold typically.
SH: Do you expect AI to become a standard tool for companies when exploring creative graphics?
Lydia Chilton: Yes, but often you're not going to even notice that it's AI. So right now, there are a lot of smart non-AI features in things like photoshop, like the magic wand tool that helps you create selections. You can remove the red eye and not have to go in and remove every pixel to take the red eye out. You’re going to see more task specific things like this. The automatic tools that we have now are just going to be a little bit better and smarter. So, that's how they're going to start to creep in.
I care a lot about what I call “everyday creativity”. When you sit at your inbox, you do creative things. Maybe not in the way that's going to win you a genius grant, but even responding to every email is a slight act of creativity. I don't know about you, but I always like figuring out how I’m going to end this email: is it with ‘sincerely’, or ‘take care’? I spend time thinking about that, based on the person, and I would really love the computer to just give me some suggestions.
You’ll see little things like this emerging from the information technology that you use. It’s getting a little bit smarter. Smart, before, was based on rules, but now it's just going to be based on ‘here's what we glean out of data that we don't quite have a rule for yet’.
The kind of AI that we're seeing right now, based on neural networks, requires a lot of data, and forces it to be synthesized. In that sense it doesn't really have a rule, which is quite like how we live our life. Nobody really knows their life by rules. We take a lot of data we like and update it ourselves without really knowing what we're doing. We may not know the rules of grammar in our native language, but we can speak. Tools are going to start to be like that. They're probably going to start accelerating as well, because if you're going to build a rule-based system someone has to program in all the rules the same way you might when you learn a language. It takes you 4 years to learn all the grammar, conjugate this to get that, for example. But if no one has to program, we're going to see these tools just come alive faster and start seeing it in the everyday creativity work that we do.
SH: And are there other ways we can expect companies to use AI in design?
Lydia Chilton: Very few people actually follow the design process explicitly. We do it through the tools.
I think AI can actually insert a little bit more design into your regular workflow. For example, when you're searching in Google, it comes up with several ways of autocompleting a search sentence. This is generated based on being close to everyone else's search history, and then filtered by what matches closest to you. So little things like that are going to keep coming up in everyday work. For example, if you’re trying to make a video, you might get suggestions on three ways of creating that video. It might ask you ‘do you want to do it like this, or like this?’, or do you want it to be more of an explainer or more clinical? That's how I really see AI elevating creativity for everyone.
I don't know about you, but I make a lot of PowerPoint presentations. In my teaching and everything else, it's just a great way to convey ideas, and you can quickly make them into a video. But all that stuff is still hard right now. You must create the graphics and position them exactly and perform all the little mechanical details. So, this is graphic design that’s everyday work, creating PowerPoint slides that are effective, that have a message, and that flow from one slide to the next one. There’s a lot of opportunity in that space.
SH: What else do you expect to see five years from now, and on the flip side, maybe more importantly, what will AI not be used for?
Lydia Chilton: I am expecting and hoping to see more AI built into applications that we already use. For instance, one thing that made my life so much easier is when PowerPoint built image cropping into the tool. This is what makes people joyful, because before this was added you had to open a separate application and crop this thing just the way you want, and then you can never change it later because ‘how are you going to get it in and out’? We’re going to see more of these smarter tools being applied in context, which is good. I think they help me do my job better, whereas the narrative that's going around the media is that ‘it's going to take our jobs’. I don't think it's good enough to take our jobs, yet that's a common narrative around technology. When photography was invented people said, ‘no one's going to paint again’. But now we have two parallel streams. We have photography and we have more paintings. If we didn't have photography, would we have more paintings today? Probably. If we didn't have recorded music and Spotify and all that, would we have more live music? Yes, but we might also listen to a lot less music. Technology can come in and make the things that we want more accessible. And it's not a straight up replacement or something that strips us of our jobs. That’s actually the rare case. Usually, it makes our jobs easier or allows us to operate on a slightly higher level.
Sarah Hoffman leads AI and Machine Learning (ML) research for FCAT, helping the firm understand trends in these technologies and their potential impact on Fidelity.