Design Notes, Episode 6

Designer and professor Molly Wright Steenson on lessons from the early foundations of AI

Design Notes is a show about creative work and what it teaches us, hosted by Google’s Liam Spradlin. In the sixth episode, recorded during SPAN 2017 in Pittsburgh, guest host Aaron Lammer speaks with designer and professor Molly Wright Steenson about pattern languages, the important similarities between architecture and AI, and the publication of her new book Architectural Intelligence.

Listen to Design Notes, Episode 6 Google Play, iTunes, Pocket Casts, Deezer, RSS

Steenson presenting "What AI Can Learn from Designers" during SPAN Pittsburgh last year. See more of photographer Ross Mantle's shots from the event in our photo essay.


On what connects architecture and AI “All technologies need an interface for people or even programmers to understand them, and architecture was one of the first places where those interfaces developed.”

On AI’s history “What I hope is that people realize that these ideas have long histories—it's really some 70 years of computing and some of these ideas are centuries old. We just [now] have the technology.”

On learning from the past “I think you're less prone to make stupid mistakes if you understand what's happened previously. One example I think of is chatbots. People have learned that they're really hard to get right, but you know what? Joseph Weizenbaum, who created ELIZA, could have told you that in 1965.”

Handy links for this episode:

  • Christopher Alexander, whose work mining the relationship between architecture and software in A Pattern Language, sparked Steenson’s interest in the subject early in her career as a critic.
  • Alan Cooper, Kent Beck, and Ward Cunningham are also among those inspired by Christopher Alexander’s work.
  • Computer Scientist John McCarthy coined the term “artificial intelligence” in 1955.
  • Joseph Weizenbaum’s ELIZA could be considered an early chatbot, using simple pattern matching and natural language processing to simulate conversation with humans.
  • Steenson’s book Architectural Intelligence: How Designers and Architects Created the Digital Landscape is published by MIT Press.
  • Download a PDF transcript of Design Notes, Episode 6.

Coming soon: In the seventh episode of Design Notes, Liam speaks with game designer, professor, and philosopher Bennett Foddy about positioning video games at the intersection of software and art, using frustration as a design pattern, and who Getting Over It was made for.

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