By Professor Shannon Murray
As professionals, leaders, and educators in design and creative technologies, we are frequently asked how we feel about the proliferation of artificial intelligence (AI) tools both on campus and in our respective professional fields.
The short answer is: First, it’s undeniable that we are living in a historically significant moment. Second, the School of Design and Creative Technologies (SDCT) was created to greet and leverage new technologies to design and create impactful human experiences. This is who we are. Going forward, AI tools are poised to become an integral part of our work.
Some background: In the summer of 2023, Assistant Vice Provost and Director of the Office of Academic Technology Julie Schell invited key Arts and Entertainment Technologies leadership to join a task force to address and provide guidance regarding the use of AI tools in training students for creative professions.
We were honored and eager to participate in this very important conversation.
The result of this committee work is a list of guidelines and considerations for instructors, as well as an acknowledgment that the technology is evolving faster than institutional policies can track. There are many challenges surrounding AI, and uniquely, many faculty members are discovering the potential of these tools alongside their students.
What was once the exclusive purview of computer scientists and science fiction is now available to anyone with a Wi-Fi connection. We believe any tool that promises the potential to change how we live, work, create, and design merits a closer look.
SDCT is not alone in this outlook. This January, The University of Texas at Austin declared 2024 “The Year of AI” and announced a robust calendar of programming prioritizing research, education, and partnerships here on campus and beyond. Additionally, UT now offers a Master's in Artificial Intelligence (MSAI).
This campus-wide declaration and degree addition speaks to the anticipated reach of this technology.
As educators in SDCT, we are obligated to prepare students to be successful creative and tech professionals, part of which means knowing how to leverage the latest tools and available resources. Although these tools are still relatively new in our classrooms, we can already identify some benefits.
Approaching AI-powered tools with a sense of discovery in the classroom re-envisions what’s possible. Importantly (and perhaps counterintuitively), AI increases opportunities for higher-order critical thinking. AI enables us to re-center human critique – critique of how we use these tools and what we render – to refine and improve our work. AI does not negate the need for cultivating critical thinking or aesthetic sensibilities; rather, we view the integration of AI tools in our work as an opportunity to discover, reassess, and reprioritize our purpose as designers and creators. In this spirit, we greet AI as yet another powerful tool for assisting us with tasks related to designing and building spaces and things that make life better.
When used appropriately, AI frees us to lean into the human elements of design. Thoughtful use of AI tools enables us to automate repetitive, time-consuming tasks and allows us to query the qualitative side of innovation. Integrating AI elevates questions of WHY over HOW in design. In other words, these tools enable us to relegate “how” tasks, such as, “how to code this particular function” to powerful machines, so that we may focus on the important questions of “why” or “to what end” will designing or building this lead?
When used appropriately, AI frees us to lean into the human elements of design. Thoughtful use of AI tools enables us to automate repetitive, time-consuming tasks and allows us to query the qualitative side of innovation. Integrating AI elevates questions of WHY over HOW in design.
For SDCT students, faculty and industry partners, AI provides a superhighway between ideation and prototyping. This creates more opportunities to ask important qualitative questions. These questions have always been part of design processes, but the potential to automate technical functions and provide access to aggregate human knowledge hints at opportunities that are simply too exciting to ignore.
Fast-forwarding to critique and iteration creates new teaching and learning potential for our faculty and students, and several of our faculty – nimble tech enthusiasts that they are – began redesigning courses to enable students to discover the potential advantages and disadvantages of using AI tools in their work.
Exploring the possibilities afforded by AI doesn’t mean that we aren’t responsible for how we deploy these tools. As UT faculty and students, we have always been responsible for upholding high standards for academic integrity. There is a lot of noise surrounding AI right now, owing largely to the speed and power with which it is evolving and the many, as of yet, unanswered questions about how this will (and will not) change how we work.
AI is by no means a perfect tool, and there are many valid concerns about how its use may impact certain professions. Particularly in creative fields, people worry that AI will replace, for example, writers and visual artists. We don’t believe this is the case. We believe that AI will change how those jobs will be performed. Therefore, as a top-tier University that holds Technology and Society as one of its three core research pursuits, it is critical that our faculty and students embrace the ambiguities of this historical moment and engage this technology to find the opportunities and navigate the challenges within it.
It is critical that our faculty and students embrace the ambiguities of this historical moment and engage this technology to find the opportunities and navigate the challenges within it.
For more from SDCT leadership regarding AI, see the article “Society Faces Tough Choices About Artificial Intelligence” in the January/February 2024 issue of the Alcalde. Read it here.