Artificial intelligence (AI) is the new space race and the UK is in the leading pack, as shown by the recent announcement of a new £1bn AI sector funding deal from the government.


The AI sector deal could have as much, if not more, impact on property and construction as construction’s own sector deal

Source: Shutterstock/Willyam Bradberry

Rather than seeing who can create the biggest rockets, countries and companies are now battling to see who can make the smallest chips, smartest robots and most complex machine-learning algorithms. While some have argued that AI will be our undoing, others see it as an opportunity to liberate us from drudgery and create overwhelming abundance.

Mark Farmer, author of the 2016 Farmer Review of the construction industry, has said the AI sector deal could have as much, if not more, impact on property and construction as construction’s own sector deal – and it is easy to see what he means.

The UK is a world leader in AI research, with several leading international companies based here. The recent government investment into AI research will help the UK maintain its competitive edge and shows a determination to diffuse innovation across all sectors.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the built environment industries lag behind others, such as finance, pharma or food. Robyn Wilson’s recent Property Week article on the digitisation of the construction industry shows us what could be possible. The architectural profession is ripe for disruption on many levels.

Genuine artificial intelligence could have deep, dramatic effects on the fabric of the built environment, creating sensing, thinking, reactive buildings. AI in the architecture profession, combined with increasingly impressive advances in building information modelling (BIM), will change the way we approach buildings’ design and delivery. Many formulaic and repetitive aspects of the design process could be automated and iterated, freeing up time for the more creative, problem-solving side of the job, thus amplifying our talents and abilities.

Automation will not only eliminate menial tasks previously performed by junior staff, but management jobs, such as resource allocation, are well suited for algorithmic resolution. AI has the ability to become a powerful quality assurance tool in so many aspects of our work.

The key to successful AI implementation is exhaustive and organised data collection, requiring a disciplined approach to logging and tagging information across every aspect of practice. This time investment is critical to reap the benefits.

We shouldn’t fear AI, we should embrace it. Computers will eliminate lots of drudgery, but ultimately designing and communicating design to other people are emotional and intrinsic human skills.

Rory O’Hagan, director, Assael Architecture