Art, Design, and STEM Converge in Our AI-Driven Future

Art, Design, and STEM Converge in Our AI-Driven Future

It’s common wisdom that technology is driving transformation and innovation in today’s workplace. Not only is artificial intelligence (AI) taking over repetitive tasks in many sectors, but it also is becoming more human-like than ever.

How should humans be educated and trained for work lives amid a world disrupted dramatically by AI?

One fascinating possibility may be emerging: the resurgence of “multidisciplinarism” — particularly the interweaving of art, design, and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields. This confluence unlocks potential not only for groundbreaking technical advancements but also for crafting solutions that resonate with human sensibilities and values.

Think Leonardo Da Vinci, who embodied the fusion of STEM and art (what some call STEAM, inserting an “A” into STEM). Da Vinci dissected human bodies to understand anatomy (science), used his insights to paint the iconic and complex “Mona Lisa” (art), and even sketched flying machines based on bird observations (design, engineering, and biology). Remember, Da Vinci didn’t compartmentalize this knowledge; he saw connections everywhere and incorporated them into his toolkit.

A 21st-century Da Vinci would blend biomimicry (engineering inspired by nature) with artistic flair, creating robots that not only function but also move and express emotions like humans. Indeed, he’d understand the emotional impact of design, making robots that evoke trust in humans, or shaping virtual reality (VR) worlds for experiences that feel real.

“Proficiency in the arts will be particularly important to engineers and computer scientists in emerging industries, such as themed experiences, gaming, and simulation and training,” notes Dr. Ali Gordon who teaches engineering at the University of Central Florida. He adds, “Programmers and engineers are increasingly teamed up with artists to co-develop software, products, renderings and more.”

The Human Touch

For decades, art has been shaping technology, and technology symbiotically shaping art. In software, Photoshop and Procreate are used regularly for digital drawing. For 3D modeling and printing, there’sBlenderand AutoCAD. For music production, there’s Garageband and Logic Pro. For film editing, there are Adobe Premiereand Final Cut. The list goes on.

Like Da Vinci, artists and designers working today provide an understanding of human form, movement, and emotional expression. Pioneering STEM firms leverage this expertise.

Take a look at Boston Dynamics’ videos of its dog-like robot “Spot,” built with human-like movements and the ability to assume many tasks that once could only be done by humans. There’s also Paro, a therapeutic robot seal. Its designers incorporated biomimetic features and gentle movements, evoking positive emotions in patients with dementia. Or check out Ameca, a robot by UK-based company Engineered Arts using ChatGPT as a “brain” that can answer questions in a way similar to people with human facial expressions.

Aesthetics are increasingly being brought to a wide range of goods and services. For example, to enhance its streaming content, Apple Music decided to add original art to its playlists to “connect more directly with the communities and the culture for which they were intended,” according to Rachel Newman, a global director at Apple.

Video games and VR, too, have provided a glimpse of this art/science future for years. In this space, art and design are not peripheral but needed for immersive worlds reliant on full-blown human emotional engagement. Art and design training equips students to understand color theory, composition, and storytelling — crucial skills for designing captivating environments and characters. Art-trained creative directors like Hideo Kojima or Zach Richter demonstrate this power in crafting compelling gameplay and video experiences.

Furthermore, as VR technology blurs the lines between reality and the metaverse, artistic expertise will be instrumental in creating more believable and emotionally resonant experiences. New applications like OpenAI’s Sora already can generate mini-films from text prompts; making them realistic requires a knowledge of shading, perspective, and lighting — foundational art and design skills. But realistic VR requires even greater expertise in these areas, along with advanced computer science.

This is not just about fun and games: VR will revolutionize a range of fields from surgery to military and defense to space exploration. However, navigating these virtual spaces requires interfaces and interactions that are intuitive and user-friendly. This is where multidisciplinary thinking shines. By understanding human psychology and user needs, designers and artists can create VR environments that feel natural and engaging.

Future-Proof Skill Sets

Educating students who are more aesthetic and design-conscious, even if they’re majoring in STEM or business fields, is the key to producing productive, competitive workforces for the 21st century. It also ensures that college degrees don’t devalue as AI and robotics become more ubiquitous.

Increasingly, colleges are augmenting their degree programs to produce modern Da Vincis. While Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design have offered a five-year joint degree for decades, in 2005, Stanford University formed the “,” the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design. The tries to nurture future entrepreneurs by using a multidisciplinary project-based curriculum that combines art, business, and engineering.

Similarly, Johns Hopkins and the Maryland Institute College of Art recently created a joint MBA/MA in Design Leadership to help students approach problems creatively, think outside the box, and iterate on ideas — essential skills for thriving in an ever-evolving, AI-driven world. Other schools such as the University of Oklahoma and Carnegie Mellon have also developed degrees that combine art and science.

The Visual Workforce

Lest we forget, humans are fundamentally visual animals due to the evolutionary primacy of eyesight. Our ancestors relied on visual cues for survival: to identify dangers, to find food, to navigate environments. This evolutionary path has sculpted our brain’s development, making visual processing one of the most complex and sophisticated systems in the human body. As such, understanding how humans engage with and respond to visuals will be key to harnessing the power of AI.

For business owners, the next time you develop your hiring plans remember: yes, STEM and business graduates are important, but having workers educated and trained with a strong set of aesthetics, art skills, and design know-how may provide the creative edge to thrive in our AI-enhanced future.