Preston So

Author of Immersive Content and Usability

Preston So (he/they) is a product, design, engineering, and innovation leader, digital architect and strategist, designer and developer advocate, polyglot educator and speaker, and author of Immersive Content and Usability (A Book Apart, 2023), Voice Content and Usability (A Book Apart, 2021), Gatsby: The Definitive Guide (O'Reilly, 2021), and Decoupled Drupal in Practice (Apress, 2018). A globally recognized authority on the intersections of content, design, and code, he has been a product, design, engineering, and innovation leader since 2015 at organizations like Oracle, Acquia, Time Inc., and Gatsby. Preston has been a programmer since 1999, a web developer and designer since 2001, a creative professional since 2004, a content architect since 2007, and a conversational and immersive designer since 2016. He is an editor at A List Apart, a columnist at CMSWire, and a contributor to Smashing Magazine and has delivered keynotes around the world in three languages. A globally recognized authority on the intersections of content, design, and code, he is based in New York City, where he can often be found immersing himself in languages that are endangered or underserved.

Human machines and machine humans

The past few years in artificial intelligence, the metaverse, and conversational technology have been nothing short of remarkable, if also disruptive and disquieting. These advances aren’t just reinventing how the experiences we create see our users—but also how our users see the experiences we craft for them. Nowhere is this clearer than in the anthropomorphization of machines as humans and the digitalization of humans as machines.

What does it mean for a machine to become human? How do we ensure we don’t clone our biases into the interfaces we build? As fully-fledged personalities sometimes indistinguishable from a real human being, voice assistants like Siri and Alexa and chatbots like ChatGPT offer one answer. When we grant AI beings an identity of their own, we aren’t just changing how we interact with user interfaces; we’re also changing how we interact with each other. Are AI personas and virtual assistants a true reflection of humanity or a mere imitation?

What does it mean for a human to become a machine? In screen-based interfaces, the user and their identity are one and the same when interacting with the digital world. But in extended reality, it’s common to reimagine who we are and who we can be. While metaverse avatars and digital characters allow queer and trans people to express themselves more safely online, they also introduce unique dangers when it comes to building an equitable and inclusive digital world. Do avatars truly represent the richness of our world, or only a narrow subset of it?

In this session, we’ll talk about how design—and designers—must evolve in the age of generative AI, immersive technologies, and spoken interfaces to address new challenges of usability, accessibility, and equity. We’ll discuss how we’ve inadvertently introduced biases and fallen victim to dead angles when recasting humans as machines and machines as humans through case studies. Through practical examples, we’ll explore how to become designers more attuned to an inclusive future, ready for not just the known unknowns but also the unknown unknowns to come.


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