Thursday, January 21, 2010

generative product design; computers that create ideas

It's one of the big new ideas: creative computers. The first reaction is often one that stems from the oh so pervasive idea that humans and computers are fundamentally different, a reaction of resistance that occurs so often when the abilities of computers expand into new realms, the reaction "that's impossible".

Sure, computers are programmed by people. Sure, even when you program a computer to do something random or chaotically, still this was programmed into it. At some point though the causal line between programmer and programmed becomes very hard to be found, and it's only a matter of perception before you see a computer as an autonomous thing with thoughts, feelings, empathy, and creativity.

On these pictures you see what happens when you use generative algorithms to automate the exploration of a design space. As a designer I must say that I think this can be inspiring in the early stages of a creation process, though in the end a design will still have to be internalized by people if we want to prevent things from becoming a postmodern cybermess where we treat the physical as a product of the mental, but instead suffuse the things we make with socio-cultural and psychological depth. I don't think computers can do that at this stage, because they simply too much lack a body and a way to base their behavior more on their direct embodiment instead of on abstract codings. But as always, development comes from both sides of a spectrum, and I think things could really get interesting this way if we can do world-simulations in which our products participate with simulated bodies that operate according to an embodied cognition approach. In other words, things get interesting when we can simulate an entire design process, including virtual user involvement. How shallow it may seem as an idea, still I think it might drastically speed up design processes.

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