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BMW on artificial intelligence: ‘we are experimenting with it in design’

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BMW’s been dabbling with AI already, but a human will always be in charge, apparently

BMW’s grilles are out there. They can’t be bargained with. They can’t be reasoned with. They don’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And they absolutely will not stop, ever, until… they’re ten square feet in size and illuminated and- oh.

Though we jest, and while you may very well have your own jokes, these grilles were designed by human hands, not a sinister form of artificial intelligence. Speaking to TopGear.com, design boss Adrian van Hooydonk said that while BMW has indeed begun experimenting with AI – the hot technology currently raising all manner of concerns – a human will always be at the helm.

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“We are experimenting with it in design, for instance in wheel design,” he said. “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.

“Still, as a person, as a human being, 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,” he added.

He notes how the company has tried AI for complete car design too. “But it was not very successful. You see online now a lot of AI-generated sketches, and while a lot of them seem attractive at first glance, when you look at it closer you think, ‘hang on a minute, I’ve seen that before’.

“That’s because the computer combines images that already exist online and puts it together into a car. That’s not how a designer’s brain works. In a designer’s brain, you combine, say, a lamp, a painting, an old car and a new one, and that becomes your new car because your inspiration comes from all of these things.”

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He’s not afraid of AI, mind, and adds that it already exists in various forms – through search engine algorithms, for instance. “We’re getting used to it in our lives, but of course it raises a lot of questions because it’s totally new.”

And what about the questions raised by those grilles? “If you look at our history, you’ve seen that we’ve done everything from vertical, very slim to wide, very low… we feel that the BMW brand has always offered some variation of that, so we can do anything really,” van Hooydonk said of the now infamous design element.

Might still be while before it wants your clothes, your boots, and your motorcycle, then.

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