master who could work with them to generate
unusual and nonintuitive strategies that would take
full advantage of the spectrum of state-of-the-art
Ultimately, more sophisticated design tools will be
only half the solution. The other half will involve the
designers themselves, who will need to be trained in
entirely new ways of thinking — ways that do not fit
neatly into academic departments and will require
new models of transdisciplinary education. New cur-
ricula will need to explore such questions as “How
do we ensure that products designed so creatively
and in many cases without physical prototypes can
be trusted?” and “Given the new creative potential,
how do we keep ourselves from designing something
we will regret?”
At this moment, where are the opportunities for
transformation? I think there are three. First, the cen-
tral role of computing and information requires we
rethink how we instruct designers and, more broadly,
how we conduct engineering education in general.
Physics, as applied to different questions, has been
the principal language for engineering and design
since the age of Napoleon. The rise of computation
challenges long-held beliefs about what should be
taught to aspiring designers and engineers. Algorith-
mic thinking offers an alternative worldview to sys-
tems of differential equations, but one that is not giv-
en central treatment in mainstream science and
The second opportunity is data. While unprecedented volumes of data have transformed areas of
physics, medicine, biology, and business into information disciplines yet, within the practice of engineering, data often remains a second class citizen. We
can envision a future in which designers have access
to vast treasure-troves of prior knowledge and experience; analysis tools will leverage experimental results;
and design systems will harvest this data to augment
our cognitive memory. In this vision, data is the central product of design — not a by-product. To get
there, we must transform disciplines such as engineering into an information discipline.
Last, and most significantly, this new space of possible design options is vast and the only way we will
be able to navigate it is if we have computers that
work in partnership with and learn from us: how to
anticipate our mistakes, open our blind spots, and
stimulate our thinking. Such intelligent software will
be our partners in creation, creating a kind of code-pendency that I believe will be not only healthy but
essential for our species’ future.
If design is what makes us human and is a human
imperative, then humans stand on the brink today of
remaking not just our world but ourselves. But we
cannot and should not embark on this process alone.
We should enlist our best intelligences — carbon-
based and silicon-based — and work hand in hand
with creative machines to design and build an ele-
gantly sustainable world for ourselves and for gener-
ations to come.
Approved for public release. Distribution is unlimited.
Licklider, J. C. R. 1960. Man-Computer Symbiosis. IRE Trans-
actions of Human Factors in Electronics HFE- 1( 1): 4–11.
Simon, H. 1996. The Sciences of the Artificial. Cambridge, MA:
The MIT Press.
William Regli is the acting director of the Defense Sciences
Office for DARPA, on leave from his position as a professor
of computer and information science for Drexel University’s
College of Computing and Informatics. He’s a fellow of the
IEEE Computer Society and a senior member of both ACM
and the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI). Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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