Harmonizing Generative AI: Balancing Promise and Human Well-being

Uday Dandavate
4 min readFeb 11, 2024

Summary

This article explores the critical challenge for designers and product managers in the post-generative AI era: gaining foresight into the impact on human cognition and behaviors. The author emphasizes the need for integrating generative research and human experience design urgently. Highlighting concerns about the rapid adoption of AI features over comprehensive research, the article proposes a mindful approach. Drawing on experiences in generative design research and teaching UX Design, the author identifies an opportunity for the mindful application of AI, urging consideration of its influence on the human experience. The piece concludes by envisioning a future where society collectively establishes norms for responsible AI use, turning potential threats into opportunities for better human interaction with technology.

Background

In this article, I propose that in the post-generative AI future, a critical challenge for designers and product managers is gaining foresight, sensitivity, and mindfulness about the unfolding impact of generative AI on human cognition, behaviors, and social competencies. I make a case for an urgent need to integrate front-end generative research and human experience design into the product planning process.

I see a problem

Today, I am very concerned that humans will misunderstand, misuse, and be misguided by the capabilities of AI. Robust systems are needed to guide and protect both creators and users of AI products.

From several conversations with friends in technology companies, I am learning that fierce competition between companies to capture a larger market share is leading them to prioritize getting more users to adopt AI features quickly over systematic and rigorous front-end generative research and future scenarios planning. Consequently, engineers and product managers prioritize speed to market rather than considering how generative AI would affect cognition, behavior, social competencies, norms, and ethics. Conventional “user testing” for iterative product development will not adequately help cultivate mindfulness in design, and the consequences could be dire and irreversible.

I also see an opportunity:

For the past several years, my teams at SonicRim have worked on generative design research and co-creation projects that have helped technology companies design with empathy, foresight, and mindfulness.

I also developed a syllabus for and taught a course in UX Design at the integrated innovation institute of Carnegie Mellon University in 2021, 2022, and 2023. The course was attended by early to mid-career software engineers seeking future careers in Product Management/startup ecosystem. Teaching this course for three years gave me the opportunity to understand software engineers’ mental frameworks, learning needs, and competency gaps. Over this period, I iterated a learning experience that challenged their preconceived product and feature-centric mental frameworks. I cultivated in them a habit of asking “why?” before acting on a top-down mandate to implement innovative feature ideas, broadening their understanding of the product’s impact on individuals, communities, and society. Several students have acknowledged that this class fundamentally altered their design conceptualization process.

From these learnings, I have identified an opportunity for the mindful application of AI. A key question to be incorporated into every project involving machine learning and generative AI is: What influence will my feature/product have on people’s experience of “Being Human?”

What Being human means

Nature has endowed us with senses, sensitivities, intuitions, and instincts that help us live in harmony with our environment. Being human means nurturing, preserving, and tapping into these capabilities. While a given task may have an end goal, the act of performing the task in the real world offers us the time and space to serendipitously discover the hidden treasures in our environment. Reducing workload may make us more productive, but it may also deprive us of the time and space needed to use, sharpen, and expand our senses, sensitivities, and intuitions.

Generative AI cannot replace basic human capacities. I propose that Generative AI is only a more intelligent tool capable of performing information processing tasks more efficiently than humans. It can mine and synthesize vast sums of data quickly and provide guidance for decision-making. It can substitute information processing skills learned in school but cannot replace the capacities sharpened and expanded by engaging with our environment with curiosity, compassion, and creativity.

It is commonly accepted that AI has led to quick access to and analysis of vast amounts of useful and critical information, making complex decision-making easier and faster.

Generative AI is also demystifying the notion of creativity. With AI-powered design tools, everyday people will be able to improve the outputs of their work into more beautiful, succinct, and novel artifacts. For example, business presentations and the use of video/image-based personal storytelling will become more pleasing and effective.

People fear that AI could replace jobs, but some jobs will be lost while others will be replaced and upgraded. AI could also break the monopoly of those privileged to have professional education, creating a new market space where those less privileged can partner with AI to offer knowledge-oriented services within their communities. AI will create opportunities for upgrading the quality of services offered by people in all strata of society.

A best-case scenario

Generative AI is here to stay. The best-case scenario for the future is one where society as a whole agrees on new norms of conduct and safeguards for monitoring the behaviors of both creators and users. I believe the threat of sentient AI will trigger reflections and dialogues about what being better humans means.

Conversations about the design of AI products would happen in every educational setting and every platform of public discourse in the spirit of it being more of an opportunity than a threat.

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Uday Dandavate

A design activist and ethnographer of social imagination.