Artificial intelligence designs websites, uses open technology stack

Artificial intelligence designs websites, uses open technology stack

It's been years since AI was supposed to take over dirty bits of work and let humanity get on with creating amazing art, exploring the universe and generally enjoying life. The Grid, a San Francisco based company, recently made a contribution to the matter. Their AI-based web publishing tool designs and maintains websites, and it's based on a slew of free/libre software projects. But will it actually automate boring work or will it swap creative humans with robot overlords?

The way to Ordnung

Let's be clear about one thing: humans are a mess. We make up your minds, yet we are never truly satisfied with what we get, so we start introducing tiny changes here and there, and thus our creations follow our whims, with loose ends untied. Websites aren't an exception, and The Grid is here to fix this. Or so its creators claim.

The idea behind this publishing tool is that it's your 365/24/7 web designer, programmer, and content manager rolled into a single entity living on the cloud. It starts with designing the initial layout of the website for your content by asking you questions you would expect from an actual designer, such as:

  • What are the purposes of your website?
  • Would you like the website to feature content we find about your site (social media posts, articles)?
  • What color scheme do you want to apply to this layout?

After constructing the layout, The Grid will adapt user-submitted graphic elements to the general style and keep mutually readjusting content and layout as your vision of the website changes over time. E.g. you will be able to switch from blog to ecommerce by simply going through easily accessible layout filters.

This original slightly cheesy definition of the idea behind The Grid suddenly might not sound all that cheesy anymore.

New web publishing medium designed to order the chaos of web information and release your passion through the creative act of publishing.

And initial reaction ranges from dismissal to this:

What The Grid is made of

The most important part of The Grid, the AI, is built on top of NoFlo, a JavaScript-based open framework for flow-based programming (FBP) for server (Node.js) and browser.

Flow-based programming is an old idea of building applications by connecting components like nodes in an FX compositing app. It used to be mocked for years, and now it appears to work in a whole variety of use cases.

The team that works on this project released a rather impressive amount of code under the MIT license. What's even more interesting is that the developers created all the back-end code with Flowhub, a graph-based programming environment, which was successfully crowdfunded a year ago:

Most image processing is done with GEGL, GIMP's old/new graphs-based engine, that is interfaced to imgflo-server via an HTTP front-end written in Node.js.

Jon Nordby, who did the majority of the work making GEGL accessible to The Grid through imgflo-server, explains the reason for picking GEGL:

GEGL has a very good, general C API, because it is mostly just about manipulating a graph of image processing operations (data-flow). Imgflo exposes this in the Flowhub visual IDE, so that non-technical users can create new image processing pipelines.

Because there is no code generation involved in a custom pipeline, it is much easier to safely and securely allow 3rd-party pipelines to run on our infrastructure. From initial prototyping it also looks suitable for animated images and videos, which is part of our roadmap.

GEGL is also high bit depth capable, has architecture suitable for color management, and comes with tons of useful operations out-of-the-box. Finally, I also have some faith that once GIMP 2.10 is released it will improve even more. And improvements we make for GEGL in imgflo will then also benefit GIMP.

Having prior experience hacking on GEGL, Jon contributed to GEGL's code base even more during the work on imgflo-server by both improving already available features and adding new ones like a gradient-map operation, support for JPEG files with CMYK data, and an image comparison command-line tool. Further contributions might involve GIF load/save support, including animations, and HTTP URL support for JPEG/PNG/GIF load operations (using GIO).


Jon is also considering moving the .json graph serialization from inside imgflo to upstream GEGL and implementing meta-operation loading from such graphs. That would allow using Flowhub or other visual tools to create GEGL operations which could be used in GIMP like any other GEGL op.

Image analytics like face recognition and color extraction are partly based on JavaScript libraries like jsfeat and color-thief, with some customizations and additions.

The layout is done with grid stylesheets — a layout engine based on the Cassowary constraint solver. If you think that's just another marginal hipster technology, think again: Apple uses that solver in Cocoa Autolayout.

Early prototypes made use of Jekyll for rendering the actual HTML code of the website, but now this is a custom codebase. However The Grid still uses the same type of format for storing user content, i.e. Markdown + Frontmatter, after it has been imported, measured, and normalized by the machinery. Users have access to this as a Git repo, so that they are in control over their content. E.g. here's The Grid's launch website on GitHub.

I, for one, welcome our robot... oh, wait!

The really interesting question is how much manual control the user would have over AI. Jon Nordby explains:

Our approach to the AI designer is user-in-the-loop. So while it will go and try different site variations (A/B testing etc.), it will ask the user if they want the proposed change. Much like a regular designer would do.

We use the AI metaphor on two levels. First, the intelligence in the technical bits of auto-designing a website (content analysis, testing variations, constraint solving, machine learning etc.). Then, that of a personal designer which helps you with your website. The two personas even have names.

Alas, no robot overlords to rule us wisely just yet. But once The Grid launches, some of us might have to figure out, if there's some good use that the newly acquired spare time could be put to. There's no AI to make that decision for us.

The Grid is currently available as pre-order (at $96 a year) with a discount to early bird users whom the developers reverentially call founding members (over 2000 of them at the moment of publishing this article). Once fully launched next year, it will be available at a higher price, all AI machinery and data storage included.

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46 Responses. Comments closed for this entry.

  1. Finally understood the use case behind imgflo… Thanks Alexandre, and cheers to Jon for the good work !

  2. Where do you dig all this cool news? Love this site! <3

  3. This sounds a great tool for designing a site structure though not sure before exploring it about how the last result would look. But surely you posted one great tool, Thanks Alexandre.

  4. This is just amazing, one can only imagine about such sophisticated designs, i wonder how you get all these information.

  5. It seems that there is a lot of self creating methods out there. I have added this to my own programming so that I save time. But I always have a sense of worry that the human aspect can’t check the problems the automatons create.

  6. I am very interested in the world of artificial intelligence. It’s a very amazing technology progress

  7. This looks like a fantastic tool! Can be difficult to create modern, web 2.0 looking sites even with the likes of Shopify etc. Good post matey.

  8. “We make up your minds, yet we are never truly satisfied with what we get, so we start introducing tiny changes here and there, and thus our creations follow our whims, with loose ends untied.”

    Sounds like a lot of our clients! Feature creeping can be a nightmare.

  9. It really interesting to see this progress in AI connected to everyday business. It still raises the question in me, that how much the further improvements can take away from people’s work. I mean, If AIs end up being quicker and better web designers, a field might just disappear sometime in the future. It always happens as technology advances, as the history show it. I’m just wondering how far can A.I. grow.

  10. Sounds Like an awesome Technology to design website. Thanks for such an innovative article.

  11. i think in future, everybody can design his/her own website because this technology lol!

  12. This is not really good news for web design companies. Unfortunately this will become reality, it is a matter of time.

  13. This is going to hurt the web designing companies and it’s not going to be a pretty site.

  14. Artificial intelligence is going too far I think .

  15. Interesting article, I wonder how far this will all go though?

  16. This is not so good news for us as webdesigner.

  17. This is a scary article in a lot of ways.  As a humble yet vastly experienced web designer, I’m starting to feel that 15 years hard toil and experience I have might become obsolete overnight!

  18. As a software developer who performs a lot of web design work i am not really worried about this technology taking over. The Grid seems more useful for personal blogs than a business related website.

    Commercial customers have specific requirements for their website that artificial intelligence can’t cater for.

    The computer generated code is also complete crap. This has been an issue with computer generated sites for some time now.

    To me this just seems like good marketing instead of some revolutionary product. But we will just have to wait and see.

  19. AI is a very innovative technology and definitely help people to do tasks very efficiently and pretty time saving technique. And in web designs it will be a revolution.

  20. Amazing article. Thanks a lot.

  21. Thank You for sharing this awesome tips with us
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  22. Fascinating article, I contemplate how far this will all go though?

  23. I agree with some of the other comments that this will be bad news for some companies that are in the business of designing websites. However, it is interesting to see how much potential there is with AI and how far we still have to go.

  24. I am the web designer. Commercial users have their requirements for their websites. I enjoyed this article.

  25. This is not really good news for web design companies. Unfortunately this will become reality, it is a matter of time. I agree with that…

  26. It sometimes amuses me that how fast technology is growing. Few decades ago A.I was just a common subject for many Sci-fi movies, but now it is a reality. The Grid sounds like an advanced Artificial Intelligent websites which can analyse several parameters and then can design themselves according to these parameters. Seriously!! if I’ve had read this article in 2005, I could’ve said “Geez it’s some crazy Sci-fi thing” but the world in which we are now!! Everything is possible.

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  28. This is a scary article in a lot of ways.  As a humble yet vastly experienced web designer, I’m starting to feel that 15 years hard toil and experience I have might become obsolete overnight!

  29. Great article ! Thanks a lot.

  30. this is so nice and good article. i hope i will visit again.

  31. Thanx Alexandre. Gud job done. Nice article, in future every one use this technology for web design and web developing.
    Again thanx and keep it up.

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  34. Very interesting article. Many thanks for sharing the info and best regards

  35. I love Artificial Intelligence. Human Robots are integrated with AI

  36. I like A.I., this tool looks very promising. Thanks for sharing!

  37. Finally I have shared it on my Facebook profile. Yes, great, I think it is crucial news. I liked also read this

  38. Wow! i need this,great article by the way. i could seriously do with this tech! it will be interesting to see how far they take it though,
    cheers, liam

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  40. Hey there, this is cool, artificial intelligence is on the rise, the world is changing rapidly!

  41. Wow! i need this,great article

  42. Amazing! the future is here, very good article

  43. Excellent read ,I think this site holds very wonderful composed subject material posts. Thanks for the article. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and I was very interested in what you have to say! I am mainly involved with forex trading but I really got a lot from this.Great article with great information!! Keep up the posting and keep up the great work

  44. This sounds a great tool for designing and developing a website. I am the web designer and I had a very little knowledge about AI before but after reading your suggestions and knowledge on AI, I am very interested in the world of artificial intelligence.

  45. am very interested in the world of artificial intelligence.
    Thanks for sharing Artificial intelligence designs websites, uses open technology stack,Great Article

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  46. And there goes the job of 500k webdesigners :(. RIP lol