A beginner’s guide to AI, from Google and the Oxford Internet Institute

The website provides an A-Z explanation of the ways artificial intelligence is changing our world, charmingly animated by the fantastic Hannah Jacobs, Strange Beast and Animade.

“Artificial intelligence shows up all around us in everyday life,” says Mike Dorrance, design lead at Google Brand Studio. “People are searching for answers about what it is and how it might affect them but the information out there isn’t always easy to understand.” And hey presto, here is The A-Z of AI, a beginner’s guide to artificial intelligence and its impact on our world, which takes the form of a collaborative website from Google and the Oxford Internet Institute (OII). Each letter unpacks an aspect of AI (for example M is for Machine Learning, T is for Turing Test) in terms everyone can understand and learn from, and is illustrated and animated with charming finesse by Hannah Jacobs, Strange Beast and Animade.

Dorrance and his design team worked with Google’s People and AI Research team (PAIR) to select a range of topics central to AI and its role today, while Gina Neff, senior research fellow and associate professor at OII, and her team collaborated on a detailed consultation process with Google’s technical and feature writers – ensuring it was hitting all the right notes. The hope is to encourage widespread understanding of the fundamentals of AI through 26 bite-sized explainers, covering the most current topics on the subject.

“The ambition was always that the content should be straightforward enough for someone with no expertise or prior technical knowledge to jump in and get a basic understanding of AI: an entry level introduction to the technologies of today,” Dorrance explains to It’s Nice That. “It was never intended to be a deep dive into the subject; there are great resources out there for that. Instead, by setting ourselves a limit of around 150 words to describe each topic, we were able to focus on equipping readers with the basics. Over time, our intention is for the hub to evolve and for the topics to be updated as new ones surface.”

For the creative direction, Dorrance and his team saw that much research on the topic “tends to follow certain formulas,” he says. “You see the same colour palettes and iconography come up again and again. They’ve almost come to define its visual identity. We wanted to go in a different direction and develop a more tactile feel… a sense of humanity through the tone of voice. Everything from the visual metaphors within the articles to the hand-crafted illustrations for each letter are designed to feel more like they’re part of our day-to-day lives, just as many AI technologies are.” He adds that Jacobs’ work has a “beautiful artistic quality that feels very human, and fits well with our visual tone”.


Hannah Jacobs, Strange Beast and Animade: The A-Z of AI by Google and the Oxford Internet Institute

While working on the project, Dorrance says he found inspiration in John Berger’s Ways of Seeing, particularly its cover: a reproduction of Magritte’s Key to Dreams which combines objects with juxtaposed labels. “This approach gave us and the illustrator the freedom to do something different in terms of visualising these topics ─ moving away from what was necessarily expected and had gone before," he says. “For each letter, we wanted to use visuals that would stick in the minds of our visitors. To create something unexpected, something that draws you in. Once we’d sparked their imaginations, these same visual prompts could be used to help visitors recall the content of the article.”

Some of these are straightforward, like C for Climate: a rising sea level that submerges the letter form. Others are more abstract: Human-in-the-loop is an octopus, which “on the surface doesn’t make sense” Dorrance says, “but becomes clear once you’ve read the article." This explains how a system taught to identify sea life, for example, may learn to distinguish an octopus from other creatures quickly because of its unique shape, however some may struggle to tell the difference between fish that share similar shapes and colours. 

Meanwhile the typography is also designed with humanity in mind, chosen to feel purposely non-digital. AI is often misunderstood as impersonal and inaccessible, Dorrance says, and can “feel distant from behind a screen”. Hence the typeface strays from the usual choices made in content around the topic of AI, using a serif with heavier and lighter strokes, calling to “a more tactile and nostalgic time of print. The letters feel more as though they’ve been crafted by hand, rather than simply being inputted into a keyboard.”

Explore The A-Z of AI here.

GalleryHannah Jacobs, Strange Beast and Animade: The A-Z of AI by Google and the Oxford Internet Institute

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Hannah Jacobs, Strange Beast and Animade: The A-Z of AI by Google and the Oxford Internet Institute

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About the Author

Jenny Brewer

Jenny oversees our editorial output across work, news and features. She was previously It’s Nice That's news editor. Get in touch with any big creative stories, tips, pitches, news and opinions, or questions about all things editorial.

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