At Callaway, the high-end golf-equipment stalwart, the process of making clubs has always been quite labor-intensive--
from grinding and polishing clubheads to crafting wood-and-steel-shafted irons and wedges.
The company has also long combined such artisanal handwork with technological innovation,
even partnering with aerospace titan Boeing recently to codesign several aerodynamic clubs.
So when the company set out about four years ago to make its latest club line, called Epic Flash,
it took the next evolutionary technological step, turning to artificial intelligence and machine learning for help.
A typical club-design process might involve five to seven physical prototypes; for Epic Flash, Callaway created 15,000 virtual ones.
From those, an algorithm determined the best design, selecting for peak performance--i.e., ball speed--
while also conforming to the rules set forth by the U.S. Golf Association.
Golf Digest gave the $530 Epic Flash driver a score of 20 out of 20 on its 2019 "Hot List," the only driver to earn that honor.
A human could not have achieved this kind of rapid iteration, or precision.
The Epic Flash offers just a taste of the ways in which algorithm-driven design
could transform our planet as it becomes significantly more common and, in time, even the norm.
"With a precise idea of the conditions this thing I'm designing will see in real life, I can design it better,"
says Maurice Conti, chief innovation officer at Alpha, a Barcelona machine-learning firm and moonshot factory.
Though still nascent, artificial intelligence and machine learning are starting to alter our built world, from spatulas to skyscrapers,
helping designers solve technical problems with unprecedented speed.
To understand the profound shift taking place, one need only consider that,
according to a new report from the UN's World Intellectual Property Organization,
more than 170,000 A.I. patents have been published worldwide since 2013, adding up to 50% of all patents in the field.
And in the context of design, as with most things related to A.I., the results have the potential to be both terrifying and exhilarating.
There are many questions to ponder: What will the role of the designer be when algorithms can largely design for us?
Will the human hand (and heart) remain key to the process? At some point, will A.I. simply take over?
Will A.I. actually produce inspired design--or will it coldly prioritize cost efficiency at the expense of comfort, aesthetic pleasure, and practicality?