By experimenting in real time and
tweaking as they go, designers can
focus on concepts and interactions
through designerly play [ 1].
Animistic design. Animistic design
is an approach for AI that creates a
sense of life in devices through non-anthropomorphic, fictional, and
idiosyncratic personalities [ 2, 3, 4]. It
proposes multiple heterogeneous smart
things that use their form and behavior
to embody humble honesty about
their capabilities, limits, and points
of view (Figure 4). Building on the
theory of distributed cognition, they
become a part of human imagination
and thinking processes, and act as
collaborators rather than servants in a
This animistic design approach,
which focuses on developing subtle
narratives, interactions, and
autonomy while incorporating AI,
prompts the design question: How
do we prototype sophisticated next-generation AI systems?
A WORKING PROTOTYPE
OF THE TOOL
The Delft AI Toolkit begins to answer
the question of how designers might
work with AI. It’s a visual authoring
tool for designing and prototyping
AI that works on-screen and with a
The tool incorporates three key
strategies: the simulation of AI by
enabling the live marionetting of the
system’s behavior; a next-generation
visual authoring environment; and the
simulation of physical devices through
interactive 3D models (Figure 5).
A next-generation visual authoring
environment. In the toolkit authoring
environment, the designer creates
blocks and connects them together to
incrementally build and experiment
with the AI processing, interaction,
logic, and behavior of an AI system
(Figures 6 and 7).
Learning from my experience with
NTK, as well as how game designers
develop non-player characters (NPCs),
the authoring system is a hybrid of data-flow and behavior-tree models. This
allows for creating complex sequences
and interactions that include initiating
AI processes (e.g., object recognition,
speech to text, reinforcement learning,
etc.), reacting to the user, sensing,
and generating behaviors (e.g., kinetic
expression, audio, light, text).
Figure 4. An example of a system of animistic devices that someone can work with, each with
a different attitude and goals. This “team” of collaborators, each with their own point of view,
might sit on a desk in conversation with each other and people, talking and showing media.
For example, the Needy asks a lot of questions; the Nerd goes deep on a topic; the Nostalgic
prefers older references.
Figure 5. Functional diagram of the Delft AI Toolkit featuring the three key strategies:
marionetting simulated AI, node-based visual authoring, and 3D simulation of physical devices.
Figure 6. A simple example in the toolkit of a visually authored behavior tree for a robot moving
and speaking. To create a behavior, the user clicks in the graph to add an action, machine-learning behavior, sensory input, etc., and then connects the nodes together and creates a flow
by dragging “wires” from one node to the next.