Does Our Future Require Us to Go Back to Nature? (Ashok Goel)

Ashok Goel of the Georgia Tech Design & Intelligence Laboratory gave a 20 minute presentation on his personal journey to make an impact on the sustainability crisis by combining his professional interest in Artificial Intelligence (AI) with bio-inspired design (BID).  BID is a powerful paradigm for addressing sustainability issues by embedding nature's principles into the design process.  The ultimate goal is a world where all of our designs are in harmony with nature.

BID emphasizes systems, analogies, visualization, and the process of design. Although BID has generated a wide range of interesting solutions, most appear to involve serendipity rather than a repeatable process.  BID relies heavily on inter-disciplinary collaboration where differences in language and approach can slow progress. 

Ashok believes AI can help address both of these issues.  AI has made significant advances in enabling creativity through:

  • systems thinking: making connections, helping to make 'visible the invisible'
  • analogical reasoning: finding creative analogies between the novel and the familiar
  • visual thinking: the ability to recognize and work with images
  • meta-thinking: thinking about thinking (reflection, introspection, learning)

Ashok has been able to observe how inter-disciplinary student teams at the Center for Biologically Inspired Design solve problems using BID.  Although traditional design tends to be problem-centered, BID is often solution-based where understanding of a natural organism, phenomenon or principle leads to novel ways of solving human problems.  Ashok has led research in tools that enable designers to search for biological examples based on the shared language of function.  Through explanations in 'design-speak', the tools help designers gain a deeper understanding of how the biological examples work.

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