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DCW 2019: Machine learning and AI ‘not ready to replace architects’

20 October 2019 | By Denise Chevin

Robots do not have the skill to replace the role of architects in designing buildings, Josh Chrystal, innovation manager at Maber architects, told an audience at the Innovation Stage of Digital Construction Week.

There is has been a great deal of discussion across the sector on the merits of automated design and how much routine design work computers equipped with artificial intelligence can do.

However, an experiment with a client, well versed in using AI for other aspects of engineering its manufacturing and business processes, confirmed to Chrystal that there is still some way to go before architects will be supplanted.

Chrystal explained that Maber had been commissioned by a client – an international organisation with a number of facilities and factories – to build a new archive storage facility.

He said that when told that the design team would take five weeks to design the facility, the client had suggested that they should carry out an experiment and that using AI software in a design sprint scenario the work could be done in five days.

“Overnight the software was able to crunch through about 100 billion variations to optimise the parameters we fed in, but the machine didn’t take into consideration the human factor, there were no welfare facilities.”

“So, we tweaked the system and it did another lot of calculations, but the building ended up being too high.

“It was a bit of a black box really; you never knew why the machine had done certain things.”

Chrystal said there were so many variations – and many things the machine did not understand – and that he has concluded that machine learning has a lot to catch up with architects. “Coders have no design background – I came to the conclusion the system is just not there yet.”

“The output is only as good as the input, there were so many variations to programme in, the system couldn’t keep up.”

“Machine learning is a definitely a design tool that we will see more of, but at the moment it is not a design replacement.”