Surveying Technology

Embracing AI

How can the built environment take advantage of AI?

From grammar checkers to satellite navigation systems, we are using AI without necessarily realising it. However, whilst AI is typically quite widespread on a general level, the built environment is just beginning to take advantage of its uses.

AI and the built environment

Geotechnical engineering can be used to analyse soil properties and throwaway sensors and algorithms can be used to help more accurately predict concrete curing times. AI is also being used to create smarter infrastructure solutions for marketing and sales, and for customer service, where it can turn costs into revenue generators.

There is, however, scope for so much more. At the height of its potential, AI can give us insight and analysis, helping us to optimise, monitor and predict the built environment to the benefit of its inhabitants.

AI and its limits

Vital to understanding the potential of AI is appreciating its limits, and how they compare to those of humans.

For example, AI does not have a human’s ability when it comes to soft skills such as emotional inference, higher-order abstract reasoning, contextual inference, critical thinking and people management.

Also, unless data is assigned a numerical value, AI cannot understand the quality of that data. While machine learning needs thousands to millions of data points to learn, a human can learn from one example. And whilst AI is very good at working with data, humans are good at spotting what data is missing.

The bigger benefit of AI is enabling humans to do things they couldn’t do before.
Alan Mosca, CTO and Co-Founder, nPlan

Optimism versus fear

Finding a balance between optimism and fear is key.

According to the World Economic Forum’s ‘Future of Jobs’ report, 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist. So, while AI may remove some jobs, it will undoubtedly create a lot more. It’s not about loss, it’s about change.

Therefore, the fear that AI will make all humans redundant is misplaced.

However, although the optimism that exists around AI is valid, it must be regulated. We must be pragmatic in order to avoid risks, such as becoming too reliant on results provided by AI systems. This will require due diligence, human monitoring and intervention.

The future

As we move towards truly harnessing the power of AI in the built environment we must focus on the benefits and remain mindful of the risks.

As we prepare for the future, the work we do with AI and understanding our need of it will largely depend on our role within the built environment. You need to ask yourself: what do I currently do? How will my tasks change? And what tools will be open to me in the future?

Ultimately, it’s not about fearing AI, it’s about ensuring that we are in control of it. The policy, legal aspects and frameworks must be taken seriously in order to ensure the use of AI is properly regulated and we therefore gain the most benefits from it. By working to remove our fear of AI, we can address the fact that we are often slow to catch up and truly take advantage of the technology at our disposal.

Transparency and codes of conduct are therefore key around the use of AI, for example ensuring the programming of the AI is free from bias. Membership and trade bodies, businesses and academics must play their part in ensuring that the ethics of the profession are not compromised due to the use of AI.

Combining this with other technologies such as the internet of things could mean that the whole world as we know it could be positively disrupted. The power is in our hands.

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