Why predicting the future of AI is pointless

Modem co-founder Bas van de Poel discusses how the design studio/think tank’s ongoing experiments with AI are offering a glimpse into the future of the technology rather than wild speculation

Artificial intelligence’s entry into mainstream consciousness has, unsurprisingly, provoked a huge amount of discussion over the last couple of years. While the hyperbolic media coverage of the technology tends to deal in extremes, either declaring that it will bring about a post-work utopia or take over the world depending on who you ask, the reality that’s already arrived is generally more nuanced and even mundane.

Bas van de Poel offers a rare a voice of balance amid the fractious debate around AI. Previously the creative director at Ikea’s innovation lab Space10, he co-founded hybrid design studio and think tank Modem with Astin Le Clercq in 2021 in order to help forward-thinking companies and institutions thrive at a time when technology is accelerating at an unprecedented rate. To date, their clients have ranged from huge consumer brands such as Chanel to burgeoning tech giants including OpenAI – the company behind the hugely successful ChatGPT and the as yet unreleased text-to-video generator Sora.

While the mass adoption of tools like ChatGPT has only happened in the last couple of years, van de Poel has been experimenting with AI as part of his work for almost a decade now. “What I think is interesting is that our traditional notions around automation have shifted quite dramatically,” he tells CR. “Before all this happened, creativity was like the holy grail, machines could not be creative or intuitive, and the blue collar workers were expected to be the first in line to get automated, but it turned out to be completely the opposite. What we’ve seen is the implications for the creative industries have been vastly more dramatic with the rise of these technologies.”

Top: Nike Air Max Pulse installation; Above: My First AI research paper in collaboration with Wang & Söderström