How will the industry find its way through the imminent challenges of disruptive technology?

Brexit. The skills shortage. Our fragmented construction industry. The housing crisis. These are all big, meaty issues that we need to address and Building Live 2017 will be confronting them head on. For the professions there is another matter that has existential consequences and that we seem to be failing to face up to with any urgency: the tsunami of change that exponential developments in digital technology and specifically AI will bring. 

The Susskinds’s seminal book ‘The Future of the Professions’ alerted us to what lies on the horizon, but the construction industry is infamously slow to change. 

I’m hoping the Digitising Construction stream of Building Live will address this and help us steer a course through the challenges of disruptive technology.

The 2013 report ‘The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs To Computerisation?’ by Frey and Osborne gave architects some relief by asserting they have a less than 2% chance of becoming redundant through advances in tech, compared, for example, to site labour which (largely due to increasing robotisation and off-site assembly) has around a 75% chance of having to find another way of earning a living.

But this could lull us white collar types into a false sense of security. Computers can compose music that confuses experts into thinking it was composed by J.S. Bach. Generative algorithms can already plan buildings. How long before architect apps supplant a portion of the profession?

Optimistically we can look forward to the time-saving appeal of Dynamo and Grasshopper in developing option studies. We can optimise site inspection and retrofit projects through photogrammetry. The opportunities are of course many. And those who embrace change will undoubtedly profit from it.

That is, before we have to start drawing Universal Basic Income while watching Android Architects win the Stirling Prize.

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