Engineering Will Soon Be ‘More Parenting Than Programming’

“What’s a crazy idea you believe in that others don’t agree with?”

Peter Diamandis posed this classic question (which originated with Peter Thiel) during an interview with Steve Jurvetson at Singularity University’s first ever Global Summit.

A successful venture capital investor, Jurvetson is known as someone with a keen ability to spot important technological trends before others catch on. He was early investor in both Tesla and SpaceX as well as sitting on the boards of Synthetic Genomics, Planet Labs, and D-Wave, among other companies.

Jurvetson’s answer was telling:

“…I think the majority of engineering will not be done in a way where people understand the products of the creation. It’ll be more like an act of parenting than programming. It might take 10 to 15 years before that sentiment is widespread.”

Although he didn’t clarify his remark beyond this, Jurvetson is likely referring to the emerging field of generative design and its possible convergence with deep learning. In generative design, the user states desired goals and constraints and allows the computer to generate entire designs, iterations and solution sets based on those constraints.

It is, in fact, a lot like parents setting boundaries for their children’s activities. The user basically says, “Yes, it’s ok to do this, but it’s not ok to do that.” The resulting solutions are ones you might never have thought of on your own.

Generative design has the potential to drastically change the role of the engineer. Today, software like Autodesk’s Dreamcatcher generates designs based on user parameters for the designer or engineer to choose from. It’s not difficult to imagine a day in the near future when this type of software—coupled with deep learning—could could come up with novel solutions on its own by analyzing past solutions and their performance along with human feedback.

An example of generative design. Bike frame designs created by Autodesk’s Dreamcatcher software.

What Jurvetson calls ‘parenting’, Autodesk’s CTO Jeff Kowalski refers to as ‘mentoring’.

Regardless of what it’s ultimately termed, this new method for design will bring surprising changes in how we relate to machines, potentially bringing even greater creativity and freedom to humans

Singularity University Global Summit is the culmination of the Exponential Conference Series and the definitive place to witness converging exponential technologies and understand how they’ll impact the world.

Image Credit: Autodesk and Shutterstock

Sveta McShane
Sveta McShane
Sveta writes about the intersection of biology and technology (and occasionally other things). She also enjoys long walks on the beach, being underwater and climbing rocks. You can follow her @svm118.
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