One of the joys of visiting Mipim is not knowing quite who you’ll meet or what you might hear while you’re there.

Lem Bingley

Lem Bingley, PW editor

On the Tuesday I chaired a panel debate in the London pavilion on the subject of innovation in property. A question from the audience caught us all by surprise. Given that artificial intelligence (AI) can already help locate sites to develop, optimise buildings on a site, create layouts on a floorplan, dream up sales and marketing material and even tackle interior design, how soon might AI essentially replace developers in their entirety?

Panellist Sammy Pahal, managing director of the UK PropTech Association, gamely responded: “I’m not sure we need AI to do all that. AI is there to help us as professionals to do our jobs better. There are bits it can do throughout the development process, and there are fantastic tools out there that can do all those things, and I think there’s integration needed to make it a more seamless experience. But I don’t think we need AI to do [everything]. I think our jobs are safe.”

Arup director Angela Crowther provided a pithier riposte: “Would you want to live in a building whose interiors have been computer generated?”

Personally, I’d want an interior designer to know how many fingers feature on the human hand – something that often seems to elude AI. But I suspect the questioner has put his finger on a topic that will become harder to dismiss over time.

Mipim 2019

On Wednesday evening I hosted our annual Editor’s Dinner and found myself discussing architectural quality with Urban Splash founder and chairman Tom Bloxham, who had an elegant solution to half-baked designs. “Pass a law to force the architect and the developer to put their names over the door,” he said, suggesting that might trigger an overnight renaissance. He might be right, but the system would fail if those names began to resemble C-3PO and R2-D2.

At the dinner I sat next to Zac Goodman, founder and chief executive of investment and management firm TSP, who rolled his eyes at the stale old topics he’d heard discussed all day: the economy, interest rates and prospects for recovery. As I nodded my agreement, I slowly crumpled the notes I’d made for our post-dinner debate – on the economy, interest rates and prospects for recovery. Shortly thereafter I chaired an unexpectedly lively and good-humoured discussion on a topic I’d just made up: what did you learn today that surprised you?

On the Thursday morning I hosted a panel session about the road to net zero. Another question from the audience put us on our toes: what can be done when planning committees are swayed by factors outside the official process? Panellist Niall Bolger, chief executive of the London Borough of Hounslow, responded that lobbying around planning decisions remains categorically illegal and urged the questioner to report any specific occurrence.

The panel then went on to discuss how this form of illegality seems about as rare and well policed as cyclists running red lights.

One wonders how an AI developer might cope with a planning process capable of straying into the grubby world of not-strictly-legal negotiation. Exceedingly badly, I would guess. Thankfully.