Design@Large: Bill Buxton (Microsoft Research)

Wednesday, January 31, 2018 at 4:00 p.m.

CSE 1202 on the UCSD campus

Video will be posted 2 weeks after talk date


Intelligent Design / Design for Intelligence – Human & Machine

In the current feeding frenzy around AI and Machine Learning, it would be easy to believe that there is a panacea which will address all problems having to do with human cohabitation with computational devices.  And yes, as well, there really is a tooth fairy and Santa Claus is real.

Like everything else, AI and ML follow what I hold to be axiomatic:

Everything is best for something and worst for something else.

My lemma to that is:

The measure of a design and designer is the degree to which they reflect an understanding of the factors affecting the balance of this best-to-worst continuum.

Clearly AI and ML are important and essential components in the designer’s tool-kit.  But panacea? 

What I hope to do in this talk is place these tools in context, within the larger ecology of practice, from the perspective of both designer and the general population to which designs are directed. The path taken is to step back and look at the notions of intelligence embodies in much of current discourse, notions which are too often lacking, and distorting.  The path meanders from “the brain in a bottle” to that of Hutchins’ ecological “in the wild” perspective.  This leads to the need to consider design intelligence as distinct but inseparable from machine intelligence.

Ultimately, the goal is not to make machines intelligent;  rather humans.  As is too frequent in the case when discussing technology, we confuse the means with the end, and that seldom ends well.

The talk is based on concrete everyday examples.  And if it serves no other purpose, I will be happy if, rather than feeling inadequate about their knowing more about design than AI, they’ll feel sorry for AI specialists not knowing more about design, and how it can help.  And vice versa.


Bill Buxton is a Toronto-based scientist, designer, writer and lecturer.  He has spent 40+ years focusing on human aspects of technology – especially around creative applications such as music, film and industrial design.   His work has helped pave the way for many of the things that we take for granted today – such as the multi-touch screen on your phone or slate, or the technology that you use to video-conferencing with friends and family.  He is currently a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research.

Prior to joining Microsoft, he served as a researcher at Xerox PARC, an associate professor at the University of Toronto, and Chief Scientist of Alias Research and SGI Inc. – where 2003 he was co-recipient of an Academy Award for Scientific and Technical Achievement.  In 2007, he was named Doctor of Design, honoris causa, by the Ontario College of Art and Design, in 2008 became the 10th recipient of the ACM/SIGCHI Lifetime Achievement Award for fundamental contributions to the field of human-computer interaction.  In January 2009 was elected a Fellow of the ACM, in June was awarded a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, by his alma mater, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, and that November was awarded an honourary doctorate in Industrial Design from the Technical University of Eindhoven, the Netherlands – which in 2010 also elected him to the position of Distinguished Professor in the Faculty of Industrial Design. That same year, BusinessWeek named Bill among the World’s Most Influential Designers.  Besides his wife, Liz, and his family, Bill is passionate about the history of technology, Central Asia, and the Canadian fur trade, not to mention the outdoors – especially mountains (summer and winter) and tripping in his birch-bark canoes.

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