The human race has never had the abundant possibilities it has today to design and build the future, Autodesk CTO Jeff Kowalski said at Autodesk University’s keynote today.

Powerful tools are converging that give humans “super powers.” And the biggest threat to adopting machines that can design and learn on their own are competitors who adopt this new technology first.

“Infinite expressibility will help us shape the future,” he said during the keynote.

Four major technologies are converging to help bring in a new wave of machine intelligence and human capability. And it will drastically change how things are built and how we live and work.

#1 Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning 

In less than a single human lifetime computers went from learning a simple child’s game—tic-tac-toe in the 1950s—to mastering one of the most strategic human games—GO—this year. Go is so complex it has more possible moves than atoms in the universe.

“We taught computers to teach themselves,” Kowalski said.

Historically computers have always been like Spock because they are logical and rational. But now they are becoming like Capt. Kurt in Star Trek . They are building intuition and imagination. Computers are starting to learn how to create art and master video games… in one night.

“Computers are getting better at human style,” he said.

#2 Generative Design

Generative design is software that starts with design goals and then creates all possibilities of the best solution.

“We don’t tell it what to do but what we need,” Kowalski said.

For example, an Autodesk intern wanted to see if she could design a chair with generative design. The intern entered the goals and constraints of the chair with new software that will launch next year called Dream Catcher.

Dream Catcher created 1,000s of options for chairs.

Even though she’s talented Kowalski said, there’s no way she could have designed and fabricated a chair in just a couple of weeks.

“Computers are moving beyond geometry and starting to understand needs of people.”

#3 Virtual reality 

Virtual Reality lets us see our data at human scale.  If it’s a building, you can walk through it at scale, Kowalski said.

Autodesk Live can take a Revit model into virtual reality.

“This goes into the emotional realm,” Kowalski said, and “building richer connections with your customer.”

The next phase—which is not yet possible—is designing in virtual reality.

#4 Robotic systems

Robotic systems will combine machine learning and generative design.

“They (machines) can work together side by side,” Kowalski said. “They will learn from each other and do things they can’t do on their own.”

Robots will be able to print designs. And not just small ones. There is already a bridge being constructed in Amsterdam from a 3D printer.

“We need new ways to make things real,” Kowalski said.


The biggest challenge for humans is the rate of speed of new technology.

“It’s putting pressure on us to keep learning.”

CEO Carl Bass said at the keynote that sometimes all this new technology seems like science fiction. It seems like it is going to take years for it to become practical.

“You’re doing today what a few years ago seemed impossible,” Bass said.

Most industries are being disrupted by technology. Many companies and individuals are afraid of disruption, he said.

“You need to run towards it,” Bass said. “Disruption can be a source of more value.”

Regardless of how large a company is, companies and teams need to begin experimenting.

“Look for ways to go beyond your own expertise,” Bass said.


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