A few thoughts on technology

From the moment you awake to the point you close your eye technology, and specifically AI, is impacting your life. Some of the examples are as simple as autopilot or cruise control in the vehicles we frequently use or even just the wizardry that recommends what programmes we might like. Artificial intelligence is set to play a major part in construction and real estate but you have to ask where does that leave the current workforce.

You translate this to property and specifically construction and real estate and the possibilities feel endless. All the data that exists within these industries is significant and that feels like all you need. They will ultimately create a tool to build a better built environment. For consulting firms working in UK construction, the rise of digital technologies such as AI, the “internet of things” and blockchain is, of course, a huge potential opportunity as well as a threat.

You can take AI and think about it in a different way. AI can make predictions based on data available. It can automate processes which in turn can reduce the complex into the simple. Based on data sets it can understand and create content relevant to the situation – just think about download recommendations on Netflix. At the moment though AI can’t operate outside of the boundaries set…..I say for now as I no doubt think eventually this may change.

Capturing huge amounts of construction and post-occupancy data through the placing of thousands of sensors on plant, machinery, people and completed buildings, all connected up through the internet of things, to give a picture of how building sites and buildings can perform to a level never previously imaginable. Then, the idea is that computers, containing carefully honed algorithms, machine learning, huge processing power and with this wealth of data, can start undertaking key tasks with minimal human input, from contract management, cost plans and estimating, to the actual design of buildings.

For many, it is opening up the possibility of property consultants’ more routine tasks – drawing up cost schedules or engineers’ calculations – being largely automated, freeing up time for more creative endeavours.  Imagine a scenario, “Alexa in the middle of the table and say to it we wanted to build a 100-room hotel and it comes back with ‘That will cost you £28m to build and take you 2.5 years’ – a basic cost plan and schedule just like that”. This will certainly change the job description. Will the “fourth industrial revolution” bring more jobs however – well there is no guarantee that new jobs will require the same skills, while, more broadly, there are fears that automation could further the commodification of what were once highly valued professional services.

There will be a need for professional staff able to programme, direct and control the machines, and, vitally, provide the creative input needed to prevent algorithmic standardisation. As well as engineers and surveyors with programming skills.

There will also be the wide introduction of Smart contracts – These are contracts of engagement that computers are programmed to “understand” the meaning of. Computers can then track delivery against contractual stipulations automatically, potentially triggering payment or other actions automatically when contractual milestones are met. Payment could be automated using blockchain technology. Improving efficiency but likewise to the above, what will this mean for actual jobs?

And last but no means least is timber (okay not technically technology) – notably new material innovations like cross laminated timber which is produced in a factory from sustainably sourced timber. There is a 80 metre tower under construction in Norway using glulam and CLT panels and a hybrid structure of timber and concrete rising from the grounds in Vienna so CLT  is becoming a disruption to the traditional methods quite rapidly. And why not – buildings can reduce their carbon footprint as well as robust fire resistance, faster build times and lighter overall structures.

So based on the above one item is clear, AI is here to stay and the sooner the construction and real estate sector embrace the better. By understanding new technology and looking at ways to further automate and innovate could lead to something really exciting.

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