Technology

Design award for fresh look at smart speakers

AI infographic Image copyright Design Museum
Image caption The infographic details the physical and mental resources that go into creating smart speakers

A map showing the amount of human labour, data and resources required during the lifespan of a single device has won a top UK design prize.

The Anatomy of an AI system infographic has been named the Beazley Design Of The Year by the Design Museum.

The graphic explores the social and environmental impact of producing voice-activated virtual assistants.

Judges said the project "makes everyone who sees it think about all the unseen impact of tech hardware".

The Beazley prize, created in 2007, aims to be "a celebration of the most original and exciting products, concepts and designers across the globe".

The winning infographic - which can be viewed online - was created by researchers Kate Crawford and Vladan Joler, from the AI Now Institute, and seeks to capture the time, resources and effort that go into creating voice assistants, using Amazon Echo as an example.

The illustration details:

  • environmental impact of digging up rare minerals to make the devices
  • income disparity between child miners and those who develop and sell the gadgets
  • extensive personal information the assistants gather about users
  • depth of human knowledge the AI engine has to assimilate

It raises the question of whether the convenience bestowed by smart speakers and AI assistants is worth the associated social and environmental consequences.

"AI is such a prevailing feature of the future of technology it seemed the perfect moment to analyse its impact," said Dr Paul Thompson, head of the 2019 judging panel, in a statement announcing the winner.

"In the future, when you purchase a piece of digital hardware, it could have the ingredients listed," added Dr Thompson, vice-chancellor at the Royal College of Art.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Gacha self-driving bus was also picked as a top design

"You will never look at your smart home hub in the same way again."

The Design Museum, in London, is hosting an exhibition of the Beazley competition entries which will see the vast Anatomy of an AI map reproduced in its entirety.

Other category winners included:

  • the Maya Somaiya school library in Mumbai, formed from a series of brick arches
  • the Catch, a low-cost, self-testing HIV detector
  • the Gacha, a self-driving shuttle bus
  • Adidas Originals sportswear, created by fashion designer Ji Won Choi

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