The UI of AI: Be Linux, Not Windows

Artificial intelligence is an agent of chaos. 

We are used to taking an input and knowing exactly what the output should be. That’s novel thinking for humans. But the concept of AI is the ability to produce something you don’t understand. A simple example is I go into Midjourney and ask it to show me a picture that I’ve never seen before. I know what I think it should look like, but I can’t possibly visualize it exactly. 

To a user, the surprise of the unknown is exciting. To a developer, it’s a nightmare. Amplifying the chaos is the fact that the potential of AI is greater than the potential of any other technology ever created. That’s not hyperbole. This is causing a feeding frenzy where calm and iterative processes are being thrown out the window in favor of rash moves based on the idea of power. Companies are desperate to find a use case in which to apply these amazing tools to solve a market problem. 

What does that have to do with you and your use of AI? The various uses and approaches to AI over the past few decades during this arms race provide a great lesson on how to incorporate this technology into your business, and the potential results. 

Embrace the Linux Philosophy

I loved the Windows vs Linux battle in the 1990s. On the one side, you had Microsoft and Bill Gates focusing on, and being motivated by, profits and destroying the competition from a business perspective. On the other, you had an open-source Linux that ran on ideological motives.

But it’s not just what these companies stood for. It’s how they went about leveraging their technology. Companies have cultures and cultures influence utility, which is why the biggest of the brands have a massive say in how a product or technology is used in the marketplace. 

While Linux hid its AI under a layer of design and functionality and let it work in the background, Windows put it right at the surface and made sure you knew it was front and center. And not only was it front and center, but the combination of Microsoft’s profit-first motive and consumers’ lack of understanding broadly in the technology made people uncomfortable and suspicious. As a result, Windows felt like the principal or that shady kid at school who’s always around and you don’t fully trust. 

The present player in Linux’s place is Apple and its MacOS. Apple has the same data as Microsoft, and yet we view Mac products quite differently. This is a product of experience design. Apple presents AI in a way that feels like a teacher, supporting you through your journey. MacOS feels like empowerment to users. Windows feels like being subjugated to technology. And seeing how Microsoft has had 40 years to fix its design problem, it’s not likely to happen. 

Focus on Trust

If poor presentation deters use, then companies must win back users with a presentation that builds trust. The companies that will win in AI will do so by dealing with and improving on their problems and giving customers what they want (we’ll get to what they want next). 

As I mentioned earlier, Microsoft has had decades to improve on its presentation and design problems when it comes to AI and its technology, and it has chosen to turn the other way. Microsoft’s goal is to be first to market, not have a perfect solution ironed out. And this could cost the company significantly moving forward as more competition enters the AI game. To succeed long term, brands must show they’re listening to the concerns of their customers and improving based on that feedback. 

Don’t Forget the People 

Replacing a person solely with AI is not an improvement of the customer experience. People hate talking just to a computer. Years ago, customers would hit 0 on their phone over and over until the automated voice at their cable or appliance company stopped talking and connected them to a human. Now, chatbots and other automated avatars drive people crazy when it’s the only option. 

Why? Because relying only on technology – and so openly, as Microsoft does – gives off the impression that the company doesn’t care about its customers. There is no feeling of community or partnership when speaking to a robot. 

The best strategy is leveraging AI to help humans make the right decisions and deliver the best service to the customer. AI’s benefit is being able to look at a situation objectively and comb through dozens of scenarios to make what it deems is the best decision. Arm your human service agents, sales members, and other employees with the data and results delivered by AI, but don’t take people fully out of relationship with customers. 

The moral of the story is that users will sacrifice utility if the packaging isn’t correct. It’s not just whether to use AI. It’s how to use AI. Great technology can be ruined by faulty design and poor interfaces. Take a page from the Linux/Mac book and ensure you have a culture that will help your AI interactions thrive. 


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