Are AI UIs Really Better?

June 27, 2023

User experience design firm Nielsen Norman Group believes advances in AI define an entirely new way of interacting with computers. Writer and company cofounder Jakob Nielsen asserts, “AI: First New UI Paradigm in 60 Years.” We would like to point out natural language is not new, but we acknowledge there are now machine resources and software that make methods more useful. Do they rise to the level of a shiny new paradigm?

Neilsen begins with a little history lesson. First came batch processing in 1945 — think stacks of punch cards and reams of folded printouts. It was an unwieldy and inconvenient system to say the least. Then around 1964 command-based interaction took over, evolving through the years from command-line programming to graphical user interfaces. Nielsen describes why AI represents a departure from these methods:

“With the new AI systems, the user no longer tells the computer what to do. Rather, the user tells the computer what outcome they want. Thus, the third UI paradigm, represented by current generative Auk is intent-based outcome specification.”

Defining outcomes instead of steps — sounds great until one asks who’s in control. Not the user. The article continues:

“Do what I mean, not what I say is a seductive UI paradigm — as mentioned, users often order the computer to do the wrong thing. On the other hand, assigning the locus of control entirely to the computer does have downsides, especially with current AI, which is prone to including erroneous information in its results. When users don’t know how something was done, it can be harder for them to identify or correct the problem.”

Yes! Nielsen cites this flaw as a reason he will stick with graphic user interfaces, thank you very much. (Besides, he feels, visual information is easier to understand and interact with than text.) We would add a more sinister consideration: Is the system weaponized or delivering shaped information? Developers’ lack of transparency can hide not only honest mistakes but also biases and even intentional misinformation. We agree with Nielsen: We will stick with GUIs for a bit longer.

Cynthia Murrell, June 27, 2023


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