We will define what we want AI to be and how we can shape and control its development

AI has had its share of advocates and haters over the last few years, but lately there seems to be a move towards combatting people’s concerns and establishing some parameters for how it should be used. Canada and France recently announced the creation of an International Panel on AI, which will consider ethical concerns and guide the development of policies. While in a 2018 interview for Wired Magazine, Kai-Fu Lee (VC investor in AI) and Fei Fei Li (one of the inventors of AI) both called for the development of a more human centric AI, which supports and augments human activities rather than causing harm e.g. assisting medical professionals to diagnose rare diseases or read MRI scans more effectively. In the built environment this could translate to the development of AI for use during the design process to create an initial set of concept designs based on previous best practice schemes or to work out optimum site logistics.

A better understanding of tech’s negatives will lead to more positives

2018 has been a bad year for Facebook, which has come under intense scrutiny for the way they have shared data with third parties.  But it’s not just data scandals that have tarnished tech’s image over the last few years. Airbnb has faced criticism for driving up rents in cities, while electric scooter providers such as Lime and Bird have come under fire for littering cities with abandoned scooters (not to mention the rising number of scooter related injuries). The main problem is that all too often technology is adopted quite rapidly and, as a result, it’s only after something has become mainstream that the negatives become apparent and remedial action is needed. This should not mean that we are reluctant to adopt new technologies but what we do need to do is create a framework where we can evaluate new products/services to determine the pros/cons and mitigate against risks. It is also important that we learn from instances where there has been a negative impact or issues of concern. Although there is a great difference between Facebook and the construction industry, we could soon be responsible for substantial amount of building and end user data due to digital construction/BIM and the increase in smart buildings. As a result we need to establish a way to collect, store and manage this data to prevent industry data scandals down the line and to make certain that the data we do have is used for the common good.

A trend towards ethical consumerism will begin to influence building design and construction

Programmes such as the BBC’s Blue Planet II on plastic pollution and Are your clothes wrecking the planet? have led to a raised public awareness about how their consumerism is impacting the environment. At the same time, a desire for more ethical products is increasing: sales of ethical clothing went up 20% in 2017 and food and drink 16%, despite falling overall retail sales. Brands such as outdoor clothing company Patagonia are attracting a new type of customer who is drawn to its environmental and ethical stance and even high street retailers are seeing the opportunities. Tesco recently launched its own-brand range of eco-friendly household cleaners after seeing a 45% increase in sales in this area. With these changing demands, it’s only a matter of time before people turn their attention to the spaces in which they live and work and begin to consider how they are impacting the planet and their own health/wellbeing. BREEAM and LEED have ensured that many projects achieve agreed levels of sustainability during the construction and operations phase but there is more we can be doing. Since its launch in October 2014 over 1157 schemes have been delivered using the Well Building Institutes standard (22 Bishopsgate, London will be the first in the UK to adopt its principles), which focuses on the human health and wellbeing aspects of a space. A greater focus on the circular economy will also be needed to ensure that buildings are sustainable over their entire lifecycle and designers must consider the long term social, economic and environmental value their buildings will create.

About the author

Stephanie Whittaker

Senior Marketing Communications Manager for BAM Design

Stephanie Whittaker is the senior marketing communications manager for BAM Design. She is also the leader of ENCORD’s Foresighting work group which aims to provide construction industry leaders with the insight and knowledge they need to develop business strategies for the medium to long term.  

Stephanie has spent more than 15 years in the construction industry, working for Arup, Capita Symonds and Halcrow before joining BAM in 2013. During this time she has worked on a variety of projects with a particular focus on creating resilient communities, high performing buildings, sustainable corporate strategies, building information modelling and energy.    

Most recently she has developed an interest in smart cities and how this approach can be used to have a positive impact on the wider city agenda and residents’ lives.

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