Welcome to the age of Artificial Intelligence — guaranteed to change your service experiences. At the International Service Design Institute, we are researching and learning how service design will tie in with AI in the future, while observing how the two interconnect seamlessly.

The goal of AI is to learn from patterns and predict outcomes, including user behavior. The goal of a service designer is to create fulfilling service experiences while meeting user needs.

With insights from AI, service designers are able to improve services by intuiting user paths thereby providing more desirable service outcomes. And since the service sector makes up to 80% of the world’s economies, nothing else on the horizon tops the impact to lifestyles than SD, and hence fuel the demand for service designers.

Algorithms Drive AI

The function of AI is dependent on algorithms, lines of code that are written for computers to observe and learn. When the algorithms are used to learn about individuals, the results can be used to predict human behavior, including individual preferences, desires, and motivations. This information, or data, derives from our use of computers and devices. We reveal our emotions in various ways, and when we use computers and devices, such as mobile phones and e-notepads, algorithms can pull in the information and make sense of it to the point of having recognition sensors that can be interpreted.

To accomplish this, AI extracts information from videos we create of ourselves, to the intonations of our voices when we leave messages or issue commands to our smart home devices, and to the speed and ferocity of our typing. This information is linked to discernable moods and triggers to those moods, putting the power of behavior predictability into the hands of those who create and manage the algorithms.

Image showing machine learning and the role of AI, with and inputs, outputs, and feedback.

Image courtesy of International Service Design Institute, Inc. 2020

Algorithms, for the most part, are owned by large companies that use the results in pursuit of shaping user experiences. They function by accumulating vast amounts of data on us, caching the data into databases that store individual profiles, and appending new data to the location as its learned. As needed, the profile data is pulled by an algorithm that organizes the information in a way that’s useful. Over time, this machine learning allows companies to predict our behaviors with great certainty. This operation takes place in warp speed, with facial recognition, for example, in which profile data is matched to features on a face, takes just one millisecond to execute.

In 2010, Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt shared with his audience that the search engine platform was well into algorithms to understand the behaviors of its users. “We don’t need you to type at all; we know where you are and can predict what you want.”

China Might Beat The US in Artificial Intelligence talk with Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google.

China Might Beat The US in Artificial Intelligence — Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google

Origins Of AI To Predict Human Behavior

One evolutionary branch of AI can be traced to a time when Google was in financial jeopardy and searching for ways to be profitable. In 2000, the company stumbled on a discovery that it was possible to predict the behavior of users who clicked on ads. It was also around this time that Facebook started thinking they could influence users with carefully crafted messages. They experimented with attempts at increasing voter turnout by placing subtle cues on information posted to personal accounts. The embedded voting symbols on images and inserted stories about voting in news feeds, all to test whether they could bypass the user’s conscious behavior. In the results, the social media company said they recorded 340,000 non-voting users who turned out to vote. Facebook then went on to ramp up its experiments, testing whether a user’s mood could be changed by adjusting their news feeds. Again, the results proved positive.

AI And Service Design In Tandem

Larger companies have found the benefit of pairing AI with service designers. The large online retailer Amazon, for example, combines SD expertise for designing shopping experiences with AI. The company’s algorithms record the activity of each shopper while on the site. They record which sites we visit and how long each of us spends on a page, transforming the insights into defined triggers that contribute to a purchase.

Additionally, Amazon’s algorithms are instructed to learn more about each of us by our reactions to recommended items that pop up, to see whether shoppers click on them to learn more or dismiss them. (Here’s a worthwhile article on Amazon/AI). With hundreds of thousands of possible products for shoppers to wade through, Amazon and its service designers would tell you how shoppers benefit from a heavy hand shaping their online experience.

As of now, service designers operate with past experiences using journey maps and user feedback as a guide for how to improve. But as algorithms become more accessible, off-the-shelf, or from building them from scratch, service designers will have greater capability to match service journeys to individual preferences, to include shortcuts for users to achieve the desired outcomes.

We Can Predict How AI And SD Will Shape Our Lives

Anthropologists have examined human capabilities over millennia and have found the most significant developmental leap occurred about one hundred years ago as a result of the industrial age. Machines began substituting for labor, extending our physical capabilities, and thus improving our lives. Due to the industrial age, we had better living conditions, improved health, and the availability of new occupations.

We find ourselves in a similar period of growth, yet this time with computers and algorithms that increase the capabilities of our brains. This is the age of AI, which is contributing to our abilities to problem-solve. A number of futurists are looking to AI, and some others are looking to SD, to help solve some of the most challenging problems we face. These include climate change (from reversal to preparation, to recovery), drug abuse, the ability to cure once incurable diseases, and remedies for food shortages and transportation needs to meet growing demand from expansive population growth.

These are problems that can only be solved with mind-bending calculations, intense pattern recognitions, behavior predictability and above all, creativity. Yes, creativity, once the domain of the human brain. But now algorithms may be a source for creative talents.

How To Take Part In The Future

Finally, we can look at the industrial age to see its impacts on labor and occupations to recognize that many familiar jobs may become obsolete with the explosion of AI. In some industries such as automotive, robots have already displaced hundreds of thousands of factory workers. We know for certain an occupation shift will occur with new, exciting opportunities for those with the skills to take advantage of them. In my mind, service design is one of those occupations that is just gaining recognition for its importance in our future, and when blended with AI, will be in great demand for many decades to come.


Steven J. Slater

Steven J. Slater, a service designer, is Chief Service Design and co-founder of International Service Design Institute www.internationalservicedesigninstitute.com