When Digital Meets Physical, pt. 3: Navigating the Future of Creativity with AI
In an industry where the ability to mold a physical product is at the core of success, it might not seem immediately obvious how invisible technologies have the potential to add value. Over a series of contributions to Canadian Interiors, I’ll be shedding light on some emerging technologies that have the potential to reimagine the industry, while at the same time strengthening the value of the physical product.
There is a digital elephant in the room. We can’t see it, but it’s there and we all know it. I’m talking about Artificial Intelligence (AI). Due to its incredible power and ability to quickly create visual work which previously was much more effort-intensive, the question on many minds is whether AI will become a friend or foe in the creative domain. This trepidation exists before we even acknowledge that this is a tool which will also impact business processes in numerous ways. Anxiety notwithstanding, the hard truth is this: AI won’t take your job, but someone using AI will.
With all of that in mind, let’s explore both sides and understand some of the early opportunities as well as emerging challenges that industry pros will need to learn to harness AI’s full potential as a creative partner.
From a pure design standpoint, AI has already established itself as a force of transformation. It liberates designers from the constraints of repetitive tasks, allowing them to channel their energy into creativity and innovation. AI-driven rendering and virtual reality applications elevate design presentations and increase speed to iterate creatively, enabling clients to experience projects with vivid realism and to experience more choice in less time. This ability to partner with AI to rapidly iterate is already being harnessed by leading firms to find new ways to problem solve for their clients and evolve their design services offering.
AI’s role also extends to fostering a human-centric design approach, ensuring that spaces cater to diverse human needs and can more quickly consider design for diverse audiences. As firms become more familiar with it, they’re training AIs to personalize designs, analyze user preference, craft tailor-made solutions for individual requirements, and more. We’re just getting started with the potential. Firms and individuals that see this tool as a partner are already finding new ways to elevate their work and the client experience.
AI’s impact on architecture and design can also go beyond creativity and extend to optimizing processes. Automation of design iterations is a game-changer for the industry, swiftly generating and evaluating multiple design variations. Moreover, AI enhances Building Information Modeling (BIM), promoting seamless coordination between various disciplines. This extends into project management, where AI can assist in efficiently managing schedules, budgets, and resources, thus enhancing project delivery. This business process opportunity is another that firms are already leaning into to improve client experiences and save on resources and project costs. Adopting this technology into their process allows them to create higher volume and higher quality work with more utility in less time. Sustainability optimization is another feather in AI’s cap, as its algorithms can be deployed to maximize energy efficiency in planning processes and minimize the environmental impact of buildings.
As software and tools we currently use rush to (or resist to) integrating AI, there may be some hiccups. Regardless, the path to this future is moving quickly and, especially in the short term, there are competitive advantages to be had.
While concerns about job displacement may loom, it’s time to shift our perspective. Rather than viewing AI as a foe, architects and designers should embrace it as a creative ally and a means to attract and retain top creative talent. Forward-thinking professionals, both present and future, seek firms that embrace tools that lead to better outcomes and will naturally look to harness AI’s potential. Embracing AI and creating a corporate environment that fosters innovation and continuous improvement means dedicating time to learning and adapting to these transformative technologies.
However, as we race to realize the power of AI in practice, the technology is moving faster than our ability to consider all of the implications. Responsible practitioners therefore have several important areas to keep in focus as they look to implement AI within their business.
IP, Legal and Copyright Considerations
Of course, with technology this powerful, there are numerous considerations that must be kept in mind as professionals begin to deploy these tools into their workflows. To begin with, in addition to considerations on the talent front, AI’s impact as a potential creator and potential thief of intellectual property within a creative industry are many.
Copyright and trademark infringement pose intricate questions, especially regarding the ownership of AI-generated content. Determining fair use and transformative works in the context of AI-generated content, establishing clear licensing agreements and contracts, specifying ownership, usage rights, and royalties are all critical factors to consider as you set out on your journey.
At the same time, the patent and intellectual property protection landscape is evolving, requiring us to safeguard AI-related inventions. The issue of liability becomes complex when AI-generated content causes harm or errors, involving creators, users, and the technology itself. Importantly, across most of these examples, in the current world of precedent, existing IP law continues to apply and favor instances where there is evidence of human intelligence driving AI creation. This legal precedent helps to underscore the notion that AI is most responsibly used as a creative co-pilot or assistant to human creativity, not a replacement.
Bias in design is another inherent challenge in need of close monitoring; without care and attention in our early regulation and curation as well as training of proprietary language models, AI algorithms may perpetuate existing biases.
A Question of Ethics
While the statement has become almost cliche in recent years as technology pushes us forward, it’s never been truer that with great power comes great responsibility. AI in the evolving world of architecture and design is certainly no exception.
Transparency is a cornerstone of responsible AI use; users – and in our case, clients – should always be made aware when they are interacting with AI-generated content as well as when they’re paying for the work of a licensed professional, versus the expedient work of an algorithm. Taking this idea further, establishing accountability for AI-generated content is a challenge that must be met head on to address ethical concerns related to its impact on society. Similarly in client interactions, privacy and consent are vital ethical considerations when AI is used to generate content involving individuals.
Ethical AI groups are sprouting up around the world as large organizations are investing heavily in data governance and data ethics. Without these frameworks in place at the core, AI has the potential to amplify and perpetuate issues. While the breadth of these efforts is more than any one firm or individual should be required to take on, it is important to ensure these types of concerns remain top of mind. Particularly as these tools become more familiar and embedded in processes, it will be critical to remain conscious of when the human work ends and the computers’ work begins and to remain transparent about how your work reflects this.
Finally, let’s also not overlook considerations of environmental impacts that arise from the significant computational resources AI training models demand, necessitating ethical reflections on sustainability. Firms who are leaning into their sustainability story must practice transparency in this regard and stay vigilant in order to continue to tell a legitimate story of sustainability with clients and partners.
Despite the inherent concerns with introducing such a powerful tool into a highly creative industry, the future of AI in architecture and design looks bright.
Anticipated developments in AI, such as generative design, autonomous construction, and AI-based building maintenance, hold the key to unlocking new realms of creative possibilities while also creating improved outcomes throughout the industry’s value chain.
In the current moment, we’re already seeing firms and individuals evolving practices and processes to create competitive advantages and bring new kinds of creative offerings to the market that are only the baseline for what will be possible in the coming months and years.
While there may be some early apprehension and red flags to tackle, as there often is with powerful and disruptive new tools, the precedent has already been set for using AI as a creative and business partner to evolve the way we work, and the way we create. With this powerful new intelligence as our co-pilot, how we design the future will be limited only by our collective imaginations. As it should be.
Andrew Lane is a co-founder of design industry-focused consultancy and technology firm, digby. He’s also a co-founder of the Interior Design Metaverse Architecture & Design (MAD) Awards and co-host of the Web3 architecture & design podcast on the SANDOW Surround podcast network, Barriers to Entry.