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Design Intelligence

Without knowing exactly what ‘intelligence’ is, the term is used liberally nowadays especially in relationship to ‘computer intelligence’ aka ‘artificial intelligence’ (AI). It seems fair then to initiate a discussion concerning ‘design intelligence’ (DI) in this context. Design intelligence is a form of ‘human intelligence’ (HI). DI is not as studied and discussed as AI, which is a concern. Design intelligence is what makes us human. Other forms of intelligence may be shared by animals or machines but DI is our distinguishing competency.

The world is flooded with news concerning ‘artificial intelligence rivaled only by news about big data. The push for big data is pretty clearly economic while it is not as clearly the same for AI, although there are obviously mercantile interests present. There are warnings about the dangers of AI to human welfare  and there are questions about the challenges of being human in the presence of ubiquitous AI.

It was drilled into me when I was a young student that it was unacceptable to anthropomorphize nature and technology. But computer technologists nowadays speak freely and openly about computer ‘intelligence’, ‘learning’, ‘brains’ and ‘minds’ as well as making statements that AI machines are ‘smarter’ than humans. This type of technology has two strategies that guide its development in general. The first strategy is to replace humans because they are inferior while the second strategy is to augment human disabilities and short-comings.

‘Human intelligence’, which is inclusive of ‘design Intelligence’ and the multitude of other types of intelligence as postulated by Howard Gardner, is essentially absent from the technologic feeding frenzy fueled by AI and big data at the moment. It is necessary, however, to pay attention to the distinctions between DI—as a domain of HI—and AI to make sure that both are developed equally and to strike a prudent balance between them in applications. 

Expanding on the metaphor of finite and infinite games developed by James Carse the distinctions between DI and AI are seen to be significant:

Computers play finite games                   Artificial Intelligence         AI
Designers play infinite games                  Design Intelligence            DI


Significant differences between the two become more apparent in the absence of obfuscations from anthropomorphic references. For example, computers are limited to appearing to be intentional while designers are intensional

DI           intension & intention          direction / aim / purpose / outcome
AI           intention                                purpose / outcome



Designers set direction for human endeavors while computers primarily assist in maintaining direction and helping to realize intended outcomes. AI is not superior to HI or DI because they are fundamentally different in character and cannot be contrasted and compared as if they were mere alternatives to some more fundamental approach. DI brings the world of AI into existence. The accountability and responsibility for what kind of AI is designed and innovated ought to be that of DI. Too often the genesis of AI is obscured by market forces and technologic determinism. The wringing of hands over the danger or threat of AI as well as the hyping of its promises needs to be balanced out with the presence of reflective design intelligence—DI.





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