June 12

The Future of AI is People

This is a guest post by Angel Maldonado, Founder of EmpathyBroker.

Why AI has become a cherished part of Digital and how creativity will dictate its future.

I am not one of those clever people who claims that “AI” is the future, in fact I find extremely challenging to make predictions of how the future will look like. Even so, I feel that our industry is once again misinterpreting the potential of a new idea and with it, ignoring the fundamental aspect that creates irresistible products; creativity.

Our industry needs, and therefore creates, disruptions and “innovations”, it feeds from them and in many ways “AI” has once again energised this need for a new future.

Running on “AI” has become another default manifesto; if your Product does not tells its “AI” story, then you might be worried you are missing the party.

Analysts and Software Vendors force “AI” to become the ultimate deal breaker, expecting it solve the need for value and differentiation in Digital. In turn, the imitative quality and fear to be left «behind» leads many diverse software vendors to conform and gather creating extremely similar value propositions.

The limitations of “AI” in Product

“AI” is based on data sets used to build its training models which are nothing but snapshots of linear, momentary and perceptible data. As a result, “AI” makes assumptions from a fixed set of inputs or a fixed point of view.

If we think mechanically of Product, then “AI” flourishes under this perspective. However, a product is not what it does, but the way people perceive what it does, the way People experience it. In the same way “AI” is not what we think of it, but what People see of it.

“If we are to create a complete artificial intelligent system, we need to understand how such a system would be received and perceived by people”
(Artificial Psychology: The Psychology of AI, James A. Crowder and Shelli Friess, 2013).

Succeeding with “AI” in Product is not about designing and implementing tools that automate tasks but about understanding the way the human brain perceives these tools and these tasks; the way results, features, messages, personalisation, sorting or bots are experienced.

For example, “AI” stipulates that a result set for a query or a navigation action shall be sorted in certain order, because it converts better than other arrangements.

To illustrate this, lets look at what “AI” decides and what the User sees of this decision.

“AI” driven result set:

“AI” Powered result set 

What the user sees:

Interfacing “AI” driven results


What drives the value of the results? Is it the scoring model (ordering choices) learned from the training sets or is it the way the ordering choices are perceived or presented?

The value of “AI” in Product is — as with every other feature and tool — dependant on the appearance and perception; an artistic capacity beyond “AI”.

The future of “AI” is People

The future of “AI” is design, aesthetics and beauty, interfacing “AI”, shaping the perceptible value of the technology within.

At first glance, Design is pure emotion and expression, breathing culture, subjectivity, irrationality and therefore not something you can expect “AI” to excel at. Nevertheless, “AI” will, in the future, evolve from this basic notion of function into the panache of aesthetics and perceptible experiences.

“Art starts with craft. The craft of making a bowl or a tool or anything that created function” — Seth Godin — Decoding “art”.

In the same way that art started with the craft, the mere functioning that “AI” offers today will inevitably evolve into the aesthetic capacity of its arrangements. Needless to say, this evolution would have its own unique status.

Once “AI” its freed from its embodied limitations, conditions will be given to automate the presentation of whatever tasks “AI” handles underneath.

In the same way as data can be made to learn from data and make “decisions”, Design elements can also be made to react (visually be distorted to reflect User’s actions). This means they can therefore extend from mere data scoring to, for example, responsive Design expressions (variations of Design), emulating Human’s ability to express emotions through a set of universally-understood gestures and expressions, abilities from where communication and empathy are sourced.

The flatness of data can easily frustrate us, a temporary problem if “AI” can move beyond the data sorting and into the infinite possibilities of the sorting of the presentation of this data.

Some call this concept Artificial Empathy, a concept I came to discover thanks to this post and very interesting related references ( — Why Artificial Empathy, not AI, is the way of the future”. by Marque J Kabbaz — )


AI” flourishes in the world of logic and objectives that we have created, a world shaped by our educational, corporate and structural systems that, for the most part, are “a relic of the industrial age” (Creative Schools: Revolutionising Education from the Ground Up, Sir Ken Robinson, 2015)

Design and aesthetics play a key role in building experiences which as of today are a product uniquely sourced from the depths of the human intellect and so far an intractable bastion for the automative capacities of the objective-driven “AI” we see in Products today.

Evolving this basic notion of “AI” means extending the automation of data to the automation of Humanized User Interfaces in ways that user’s emotional nature can be empathized upon.

Paul McAvinchey

About the author

For over 20 years, Paul has been building and collaborating on digital products with fast-growing startups and global brands, including AOL and WMS Gaming. Currently, he's a co-founder of Product Collective, a worldwide community of product people. Members collaborate on in the exclusive Member Hub, meet at INDUSTRY: The Product Conference, listen to Rocketship.fm, learn at Product Interviews and get a weekly newsletters that includes best practices in product management. In recent years he led business development at DXY, a leading product design firm in the Midwest, and product innovation at MedCity Media, a publishing startup acquired by Breaking Media in 2015.


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