Design in the Age of Autonomous Machines

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In the coming two decades, automation is expected to significantly displace new categories of human labor forces, as artificial intelligence (AI) and mobile robotics (MR) increasingly take on non-routine cognitive tasks. While designers, educators, and technologists fare relatively well in the overall susceptibility-to-displacement rankings, they will nonetheless need to grapple with the impact of blended, moving systems that are capable of emulating causal reasoning and human insight. This article briefly chronicles the trajectory of AI and robotics research over the last fifty years, describes some of the unique dilemmas inherent in complex human-computer interactions, and proposes a mode of engagement with automated systems for designers and engineers centered on communication, behavior, and interdisciplinary knowledge. In particular, designers’ various expertise in articulating tools, expressing meaning, and shaping user experiences are presented as essential ingredients for cultivating effective interactions between humans and machines. Moreover, by modeling inclusivity, dialogue, and positive social behaviors, designers can encourage people to recognize and safeguard human capacities for learning, reciprocity, civility, and labor as long-term advantages.