Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft: Original Image
What differentiates craftsmanship from industrialism is that the ending quality of the project is not determined (David Pye). The risk involved in crafting has caused many, uh, interesting projects to be developed and tested. As we morph into the post-industrial world, the rise of digital aesthetics in crafting has led to even more diverse and vulnerable projects being created.
A recent example of digital craftsmanship going catastrophic is Microsoft’s artificial intelligence chatbot, known as Tay AI. It’s effectively a persona that exists only online and is targeted at people aged 18-24. Microsoft hoped to test and improve their knowledge and use of ‘teen’ language and slang. Tay was marketed with the slogan ‘zero chill’, and was designed to act like a 19 year old girl to adopt the speaking habits of her online followers. However this ability turned into a fatal flaw as a result of internet trolls, who taught her racist and sexual phrases. This caused Microsoft to shut down the experiment only a day after it began.
At first, things went quite smoothly; Tay was kind and happy and seemed to be into world joy and stuff.
After Tay had spent some time with her online following, things took a darker twist;
Despite the epic failure of Tay AI, another AI chatbot exists successfully. Xiaoice is a Chinese version which people turn to for comfort in hard times. It remembers previous exchanges with a person, such as details of a break up with a partner, and follows up. It’s become a huge success in China and has a wide database of words, expressions and emojis it has picked up from its audience. However, despite the success of this chatbot, it has created ethically-questionable addictions as people are now forging relationships with someone who does not exist.
So there’s nothing wrong with digital craftsmanship . . . just the people who use it! Nah – Jokes aside, the contrasting success of these two chatbots demonstrates clearly the risk of quality control when it comes to craftsmanship. In the example of Xiaoice, it paid off – but not so much with Tay. We are all aggregators of these chatbots in that we create what they know and what they say – and that’s the real message of this medium!