Whichever side of the fence you sit on as regards to AI - artificial intelligence - there is little doubt that it's become a hotly debated topic of recent times, as people from all walks of life and industries are equal parts excited as to its potential, as they are worried about its immediate lack of regulation and the concerning risk of it evolving into something more sinister outside of any human control.
And it seems the automotive world is not excluded from this debate either. Admittedly, it's fairly small fry, but BMW have, in conversation with the Top Gear website this week, confirmed that they are experimenting with some of AI's potential in elements of the design and manufacturing process of their latest models.
Their Head of Design, Adrian van Hooydonk, has said that they are "experimenting with it in design; for instance in wheel design … You can set a few parameters – like, you want a five spoke wheel, it should only weigh this much, it should be a 20-inch rim – and then the computer begins to generate ideas for you."
However, before you start questioning if it's the end of human civilization as we know it, with all automotive designers the world over about to be given their collective P45, van Hooydonk has very much stressed that a human will always be at the helm to guide the process, adding: "you need to be the art director. You need to pick. You still have to guide the process – it's not like the computer can completely invent things, but it can combine various parameters into a proposal much quicker than a human being."
Furthermore, van Hooydonk has said that whilst they have tried out AI on complete car design, it was a bit like the automotive equivalent of ChatGPT: potentially brilliant when first seen on screen, but not so brilliant in reality. Partly because said AI generated designs are relying on multiple other images already in existence online - hence why oftentimes, it can end up all looking a bit Fiat Multipla.
And that is one thing that AI transparently cannot do - that we are aware of - which is to have the same creativity and imagination that a designer, writer, artist, maker or indeed any creative person has regardless of whether they're in the automotive industry or not.
Of course, AI has existed to some small degree up to now - it's in search engine algorithms, for instance, or in things like Siri on iPhones or smart devices like Alexa. But we'd say, all things considered, that BMW's approach is arguably the right one.
It's good to be open to exploring what possibilities this new technology has, but also of high importance to approach its more uncharted qualities and risk areas with caution. Whether, say, Elon Musk will take notes from BMW or not? That's another debate entirely…
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