Can ID survive AI?
Friday, September 08, 2017
Although still in its infancy, artificial intelligence (AI) is already raising alarms as a job killer and, in the views of physicist Stephen Hawking and inventor/entrepreneur Elon Musk of Tesla fame, may provoke World War III or otherwise bring about the end of the world as we humans know it.
In the meantime, it is certain that AI is going to transform the way we live and, along with it, most industries and professions. Interior design is no exception.
Purveyors of interior design software have already begun incorporating elements of AI into their products. The question for designers is to what extent AI may supplant their services and put their profession at risk.
Faced with foreboding predictions of ensuing obsolescence, the creative community has to date taken the stance that their essential contribution to their professions and their clients is creativity and taste, and that those are not programmable. A look at most of the interior design software and cloud-based services currently available tends to support that argument, as they rely on rather formulaic applications of design principles.
A major difference with AI, however, is that the program has the capacity to amass new information and "learn" from user feedback, and thus improve its designs over time. That could be a game-changer, at least with certain segments of the market.
Currently, a product called Planner 5D, which incorporates aspects of AI and virtual reality into its design software, has been receiving a lot of attention. An article on the website Digital Trends entitled "Thinking of redecorating? Don't hire an interior designer" quotes Alexey Sheremetyev, co-founder of Planner 5D.
"When we connect interior design techniques with AI, we hope to surpass an average interior designer who works using 'cookie cutter' design methods," Sheremetyev said. "Later on, we might even win some interior design contests."
As professionals know, there is a big difference between "redecorating" or rearranging furniture and designing. For young professionals or families on a budget, a tool like Planner 5D may be all they need to improve the aesthetic and functionality of their living space. Someone building or remodeling a high-end home probably is not going to design it themselves using the program.
The history of technological development shows us that in time these types of programs will get "smarter" and more complex. So is Planner 5D the beginning of the end for interior designers? Not necessarily. The alternative scenario is for ID and AI to co-exist in a symbiotic relationship of human and machine, resulting in a win-win situation.
In a column for for Kitchen + Bath Business, Erinn Waldo observes, "If a designer is working on creative projects, AI can hardly help. But if a designer is creating various similar-looking projects by using one template that only needs to be adjusted and modified, then this is a job for AI."
Another area where AI could be a boon for interior designers is in gathering user input. Today, designers have to rely mainly on post-occupancy evaluations to get feedback as to how well their designs are working. And because they are costly, time-consuming and potentially disruptive, they seldom are done.
Using a combination of "smart" technologies (such as sensors) and AI, designers will be able to gather large amounts of real-time data to help them better understand how occupants are using and responding to the spaces they have created, and then use that information to continue to improve and refine their designs.
In addition, AI-enabled building systems could respond and adapt to changing needs based on the same feedback, thus improving the healthiness and functionality of the environment on an ongoing basis. Designers will be needed to determine how to best integrate these technologies and systems into spaces so that they work harmoniously with the humans who inhabit them.
Stories of AI-enhanced programs composing symphonies, producing artwork and writing poems may appear to sound the death knell on the creative class, but rumors of its demise are premature. On the contrary, designers may find that having machine partners who can do their drudge work will free them to be even more creative and explore alternatives that time and money at present do not allow.
What it means to design and be a designer may change, but the profession will not disappear.
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