Artificial Futures


After talking to people about what they think of the future, i found out that a lot of us (designers) are really scared of AI taking over our jobs, our lives, and so on. So i thought, let’s take the conversation TO the AI and see what it (they?) feel. Well, technically, not an AI but a series of Algorithms that generate responses to situations. Close enough?

Berlin-based “Futures-thinking Solutions Provider” ThirdWave has created an “AI-based Futuring tool” called Futures Scenario Generator. It is a simple web-app which asks for a word or a phrase as a prompt, and generates three future scenarios for it.

This is what the creators say about the tool:
To write the text for the scenario descriptions, the Generator is using an AI-based text-generating language model. It’s working with pre-generated data (the most machine-learning parameters at its launch in the middle of 2020), which means that we don’t have to feed it training data. It has been provided with an enormous amount of text (in the English language). That makes it possible to generate scenario descriptions on the spot quickly but also makes it a tad unpredictable, which we consider a feature, not a bug. The Generator is also autoregressive, which means that it interprets the task anew every time someone hits the ‘Generate’ button. You will never get the same scenarios twice.

I asked the generator to create future scenarios for the following prompts:

1. Design

The generator pictures some fairly plausible scenarios for the future of design practice and the design industry, and addresses the qualms about AI in design rather diplomatically? These futures are equal parts ‘realistic’ and fantastic. 

2. A Ministry of Design

This sounds like nice and proper design fiction. There’s utopia, dystopia, and good measure of capitalistic realism. 

3. Design in India

This one was a fairly generic series of responses. The AI clearly lacks nuance about design in India, but predicts some fairly plausible futures for design everywhere.

4. Design Ethics

Genetically modified...babies? Corporatised mind-reading and permaculture utopia. Things felt pretty Black Mirror until the third scenario, which felt unusually refreshing. This goes on to say that design is not neutral, and it almost never functions in isolation. Countless societal factors inform and influence design and shape design decisions.

5. The Politics of Design

The first scenario, while not plausible for now, is an interesting proposition. The second one conflates design with ‘urban design’ and while not inclusive, it’s definitely worth a look. Scenario 3 is radical, and a little on the extreme side, which i wonder how the algorithm extrapolated.

6. Design Politics

Scenario 3 is wild. Will analyse these a bit more later.

7. Ethics in Design

Since i wasn’t satisfied with the outcomes of the “Design Ethics” query, i refined it a bit and asked for “Ethics in Design”. This time i got responses closer to what i expected. The AI comes to speculate a future where its own brethren are confronted on ethcial grounds. This was also another reminder of how even for an algorithmic entity, design exists as a part of a larger system, as the ethics this AI talks of concern not just design but larger patterns of governance, industry and society.

IN CONCLUSION (but not really)

I was looking for futures scenarios to situate my design fictions in, and these are some very interesting starting points for a more articulative world-building where the designed objects will go.

There are recurring themes between the futures pictured by the AI and by humans. Maybe i could base my fictions over the most constantly recurring ones.