John Maeda is the Vice President of Design and Artificial Intelligence at Microsoft. In his richly varied career, he’s also been an artist, a professor, an author, a college president, and a business executive. His digital artwork, books, lectures, research, and teaching have explored how digital technology can empower creativity.

He joined WorkLab to discuss how everyone can best leverage the potential of AI to unleash creativity and reduce tedium and repetitive tasks.

Maeda is the third guest for season 4 of Microsoft’s WorkLab podcast, in which host Elise Hu has conversations with economists, designers, psychologists, and technologists who explore the data and insights into why and how work is changing.

Three big takeaways from this conversation:

  1. One of the things Maeda is excited about is AI’s potential to minimize the time you spend on drudgery and rote tasks, and maximize the time you spend on engaging challenges. “Ask yourself: What do you not actually like doing in your job? What are things that you enjoy doing that you want to really keep? On the one hand, [AI will lead to] greater productivity because you’re doing what you are most excited about. And also, greater productivity because, hey, I didn’t want to do that other thing in the first place.”

  2. What do scissors have to do with AI? Maeda cites an elegant metaphor that was first coined by legendary computer science professor Herbert Simon . “Imagine that there are two blades of a pair of scissors. One blade of the scissors is cognition, and the other blade is context. And when you slice, slice, slice, those two together, it creates what feels like intelligence. That’s what’s happening with large language model AI. This amazing new cognition blade has arrived, and now we can just, like, rub context against it.”

  3. Maeda offers advice on how we can get a handle on the potential of AI: “Try it out. Learn how prompts work, learn how context works. Take the scissor blades and start snip, snip, snipping. Let’s first understand it. Let’s learn what the cons list are and just adapt as quickly as possible to what we want to use it for and what we don’t want to use it for. This technology is much like the World Wide Web’s emergence. When someone first showed me a homepage, I was like, ‘That’s never going to take off.’ And then a month and a half later, I said, ‘Well, I’ve got to build a home page.’ It’s like that, I think.”

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Here’s a transcript of the episode 3 conversation.

ELISE HU: This is WorkLab , the podcast from Microsoft. I’m your host, Elise Hu. On WorkLab , we hear from leading thinkers on the future of work—economists, designers, psychologists, technologists. They all share surprising data and explore the trends transforming the way we work. In this episode, we continue our exploration of large language model AI, or LLM AI.

JOHN MAEDA: Design today is going to play an important role in this LLM AI world, with the perspective on ethics. These kinds of ideas, which have been embedded in great products, are now going to have to be better than ever when it comes to this new kind of AI.