If artificial intelligence would be personalized, what face could these personal assistants have? This was the question for this speculative design futures project of 2005, a time when there was no Siri or Alexa yet.
Looking for a suitable design expression for entities with a synthetic personality, I was inspired by Japanese Noh Masks, envisioning morphing, somewhat uncanny yet friendly "big brothers" and sisters appearing whenever they are called upon. These Noh spirits are morphing digital icons, appearing on digital walls and screens, eagerly waiting for your instructions, on your side in the system even when you are travelling on an airplane.
Noh theatre originated in 14th century Japan. The word Noh means skill or talent. Noh is highly codified, actors appear in masks which codify facial expressions and emotions are conveyed by stylized gestures. Noh plays often tell stories of transformations - deities transform to humans, and humans become ghosts or demons. The many layers of meaning behind Noh seemed a good medium to transport the complexity of AI and its fascinating - and conflicting - promises.
The design of commercial AI devices by 2017 is quite different: They appear as simple household objects (Google Home, Amazon Echo) or as "cute" artifacts such as the Japanese AI bot Paro. These design approaches make AI devices appear "banal" in the hope to get them adopted into households similar to dishwashers, audio speakers, or toys.