When AI takes over (graphical) UI

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I just read a post on Wired about the inventors of Siri who are working on a new kind of Artificial Intelligence [1]. This new kind of AI should be able to break down complex queries into sub-queries and integrate with 3rd party services to find solutions to these sub-queries. From these solutions a “master-solution” to the complex query is re-assembled and then output to the user. One use-case described in the post could be:

  • “Book me a plane seat to Dallas with enough legroom to fit Shaquille O’Neal in”.

The query would be broken down likes this:

  1. Book a plane seat to Dallas
  2. Compare legroom of different plane-types
  3. Find size of Shaquille O’Neal

Now the AI searches solutions to each of these problems. E.g. to find the size of Shaquille O’Neal it would search through a database of some Basketball-website. This database search would be realized using an API to create fast, standardized results.

The vision of the founders is to create a global AI that connects to a multitude of 3rd party services in order to find the right information for each of the sub-queries instantly.

I was quickly thinking about the impact such an AI would have on UI. Imagine a world where you interact with data only through voice: there will simply be no need for graphical UI (except for some edge cases, of course, like professional work). But in general debates like “flat design vs everything else”, “skeumorphism yes or no” and “serif or no-serif” will be obsolete. The same goes for questions like “should I design and build this website in a responsive way?”, “should I bother with accessibility?” or “do I really need to optimize for IE8?”. A myriad of (graphical) UI designers will be out of work as soon as such an AI starts to take over.

Such kind of AI will become the UI between data and brain.

The point I am trying to make here: the kind of profession that we regard today as working on cutting-edge solutions, namely UI for complex software, is already being made obsolete, un-employed.

In the bigger picture this means: the speed with which technology is evolving is growing exponentially. Yes, we all knew that. [2] But the impact it will have in 5, 10, 20 years from now will be much worse than we imagine right now. And it will hit professions that we all regard as safe right now, only because they are in IT.

Disclaimer: I don’t dislike these developments. I believe in the benefits they will eventually bring. I am just trying to think forward in order to make better decisions in which directions to develop personally. If I can make some people think about their own decisions, too, something has been won already.

[1] Wired about Viv in August 2014
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore’s_law