My design career has been long enough that I have been able to watch the inexorable march of technology and witnessed first hand the disappearance of huge pieces of our industry, and the good people that went along with them. Based on predictions by one of the keynote speakers this morning at the FUSE conference, I can now predict the end of package design as we know it.
The field, again at least as we know it, will disappear between 2025 and 2030, and here’s why.
Ray Kurzweil’s wikipedia listing calls him an inventor and futurist. That doesn’t even begin to hint at the scope of his abilities and interests. As the inventor of the CCD flatbed scanner, optical character reader, and text-to-speech synthesizer, he knows a bit about technology’s application to visual signs and symbols, and the immeasurable impact of technology on progress of all kinds.
He also knows a bit about the history of innovation. When he predicted, in the early 1990s, that the military network with a couple thousand computers would blossom into the world wide web connecting billions of users by the middle of the 2000s, people laughed at him. When he accurately predicted the date the human genome would be decoded, years before its completion, he was again laughed at.
But he based these and other predictions on history, simple math, and the miracle of exponential growth.
Using medical research as an example, he discussed the linear path drug exploration has taken for thousands of years. Whether we are talking about the hit and miss method of finding magic mushrooms on the rain forest floor, or the complex formulas of modern chemistry labs, it has been an essentially experimental process. And importantly a linear one, with predictably slow growth.
But with the decoding of the human genome that has now radically changed. It means that drug discovery will move from the analog to the digital, and now become a product of information technology. And every time something becomes an information technology, its innovation growth trajectory begins to take off exponentially. Think 2, 4, 8, 16, not 1, 2, 3, 4. Moore’s Law of semi-conductor power is just one example of the power of information technology and of its amazing predictability over time.
As his speech ended it occurred to me that medicine and design are really not so different. They are both uniquely human examples of the way we combine applied knowledge and intuition. So I had to ask him when he thought design would become an information science?
I cornered him as he left the room, and here is how he answered. He paused, smiled, rubbed his chin and said, that design is simply the result of human intelligence, and he predicts we are 20 years away from developing, and being able to apply, human level intelligence with computers.
Answer, so when we develop human level intelligence in 20 years, no more designers!
Hey don’t kill the messenger! I know this implies all kinds of other moral questions about creativity, art, intuition and artificial intelligence (most of us designers are accused of having too much of that already), but enough for now, I’m going for a drink with my friends from FUSE at The House of Blues.
Ray Kurzweil ended his speech on an optimistic technology note by predicting that at the current pace of solar power innovation, which of course is growing exponentially, we are only 8 doublings away from being able to use this technology to harness all the energy requirements that the world needs.
Best news I had all day.