If you haven’t yet found yourself glued to the television in awe of HBO’s hit series, West World, then here’s what you’re missing: an eerie peek into the future of artificial intelligence.
If you don’t know the premise of West World, it is essentially an amusement park populated by artificially intelligent robots. The robots are characters in a theatrical storyline that visitors can interact with. They are remarkably life-like — they look like they’re human; they act like they’re human; they feel like they’re human.
While the show is certainly science fiction, it rings with an undertone of truth. Now, more than ever, we are seeing advances in artificial intelligence that pose the question: maybe that future isn’t so far off from reality after all?
From time to time, the TV show’s audience is given a glimpse into the ‘corporate headquarters’ of West World, where the designers and engineers responsible for developing and maintaining the park are on display.
Each robot in West World possesses their own personality and aptitudes, and plays a specific role within a scripted narrative. So we get to see how the creators of the theme park organize themselves, with dedicated designers creating both the hardware and software, and a team developing the content strategy (or storyline).
The show depicts a similar organizational structure that’s similar to most tech companies today. But what’s fascinating to me is the adaptation of the role of the experience designers will play far into the future. In the vision of West World, experience designers are not just designing for screens, but designing people.
Following this thinking, the creators of West World inadvertently begin to scratch the surface of how important (and different) UX truly will be in the years to come. In a world where AI has self-actualized, the job requirements of an experience designer may blend with algorithm designers, machine learning and cognitive/social psychology.
There is an emphasis in today’s technology to design for the visual experience since most of our interactions with machines are in the form of mobile devices and laptops. With the rise of AI, that experience is quickly vanishing, and instead our interactions with technology are becoming more natural, such as in the form of conversation.
When AI inevitably becomes as ubiquitous as mobile apps today, experience designers will be responsible for questioning how the technology can respond and interact in a way that feels truly real, in a way that feels meaningful and enhances our lives.
Thus, the context of the experience will be stripped to nothing more than the ‘user’s’ emotional context. How do we design personalities that not only feel real, but delight us? How do we design conversations that are not only logical, but can also be improvised? In order to be effective, experience designers will need a deep understanding of cognition, social norms, natural language and logic.
What is most interesting about this sci-fi world is that some of the underlying technology already exists. For example, the method in which the Google search bar or your smartphone keyboard is anticipating the next word you type is likely a less sophisticated engine that will power AI robots.
The rise of chat bots and software trending towards zero UI is becoming seemingly more of a gateway toward the reality that West World has imagined.
It’s nothing more than math and algorithms, masked with tears on cue and laughter on command, creating human-like qualities. So at what point does the design of a conversational decision tree begin to feel so real that we can’t tell the difference between robots and real humans?
Nevertheless, there’s still much more work to be done, but it’s becoming clear where we’re headed.