14.58, Tuesday 4 Jan 2011

Rory Hyde interviewed me last year, after I spoke at Thrilling Wonder Stories, and he's put the result online: Know No Boundaries.

I like interviews with people carrying voice recorders. I say things that I don't expect to say, but I also force myself to pause and think how to say it before I speak. And then somebody else turns it into proper English and asks another good question. So I surprise myself. A handful of decent things came out:

On products:

I think the idea of products is really important. I have these things I look for in our work; one is hope, I think our things should be hopeful, and not just functional. Another is that it should be beautiful, inventive and mainstream. I think mainstream is important because otherwise you're just affecting a few people. A product is a good gate because you start to ask 'how is this going to be consumed by the market?' We don't have many ways of judging whether something is really good, and money is one of them. And that's kind of what products do.

I will say something about why to invent as well. Because you could see our work as experimental, or science-fiction, or futuristic; but I would say - and others in the studio may not agree with me - that our design is essentially a political act. We design 'normative' products, normative being that you design for the world as it should be. Invention is always for the world as it should be, and not for the world you are in. By designing it, it's a bit like the way the Earth attracts the moon, and the moon attracts the Earth just a tiny bit. Design these products and you'll move the world just slightly in that direction.

On Fractional A.I.:

About 'fractional AI', I reference two things there, one is artificial intelligence as it is seen in movies of the mid twentieth century; human scale or larger intelligences as seen in books by Arthur C. Clarke or Isaac Asimov for instance. But then there's this idea which emerged in the early 1900s of fractional horsepower. Horsepower used to be the thing that we measured factories by, but fractional horsepower says that instead of motors that are as big as buildings, we could have motors that were as big as fists. So we could take the fruits of these factories, make them really really tiny, and put them in our homes. Fractional horsepower enabled genuine improvements in quality of life, through appliances like washing machines, refrigerators and hairdryers. And we had half a million fractional horsepower motors in the US by the 1920s, it was an incredible explosion that made domestic life better.

My belief is that we're going to have the same explosion with artificial intelligence. And we won't see it as was depicted in films as controlling nuclear weapons (War Games), or controlling space ships (2001). Fractional AI means that the tiny things around us will be smarter. And the very first place you see this in a very tiny way is in children's toys. It used to be that children played with Meccano or Lego, now they play The Sims. The Sims is a representation of a world in which everything is intelligent in really tiny ways, and we'll be seeing more of that I think in conventional products. What does an intelligent car look like? It maybe only will be as intelligent as a puppy, so what does that mean?

On the shift from the industrial to the domestic:

We've experienced a shift in the last fifty years, in that the bleeding edge of technology used to be industry, so the objects we got in our homes were the off-cuts of industry; look at computers, or the mobile phone, or the internet; those came from industrial mainframes, or battlefield communications, or decentralised information systems. We've experienced a flip now, the technology we have starts on the desktop, in games consoles, or from texting your mates. That is the bleeding edge of technology, and it is leading the way. And it's quite unsurprising that the world we were trained to be in - the industrial one - was one that's a bit soulless, where you had to follow orders, be a cog in the machine. So maybe we're not quite trained right for the things we're being asked to design now, which start from the domestic sphere. Now that's incredibly exciting, because we get to look at other disciplines for where we should learn our craft, and maybe that's character animators, child psychologists, cartoonists, or architects of intimate domestic spaces instead of office buildings.

Thanks Rory!