The four signs that the AI future will be ideal

Abstract image of the AI future
Image: 146385978 | Future © Preechar Bowonkitwanchai |

Acquiring both professional knowledge and human-like judgement, integrating with business and clarifying professional responsibility: these are the four signposts that a future dominated by AI will be a good one.

That’s one of the key findings from a forward-looking report from RIBA, Horizons 2034: Technological Innovation. It features four so-called ‘scans’ (chapters) about the future: innovation strategy, digitalisation in design, automation in construction and architecture in the age of AI.

In the latter chapter, Mark Greaves, executive director of the AI and Advanced Computing Institute at Schmidt Sciences, sets out a vision for 2034 in which AI has turned out to be a hugely beneficial force in architecture. In 2034, he imagines that projects are completed “noticeably safer” and are “more harmonious and more sustainably constructed”. Furthermore, the use of AI will have enabled an explosion of design creativity.

Greaves sets out the four signposts to this ideal future outcome being achieved, starting with AI Acquiring professional knowledge. He notes that such knowledge is held within practices’ archives (sketches, floorplans, sections and 3D models, for example) and the minds and experience of the architects themselves. Thus, to achieve the ideal outcome, this private knowledge must be made available for AI systems to train on.

He proposes: “An important signpost would be seeing powerful AI systems being marketed to architectural practices that can incorporate firm-specific proprietary data and artefacts.”

Greaves’ second signpost towards the ideal outcome involves “AI systems achieving the capability to interact professionally and to form professional judgements from uncertain information”.

AI-specific jobs

His third signpost is the rate of introduction of AI-specific jobs. He notes: “The advent of AI systems has already produced several new job categories (such as ‘prompt engineer’ and ‘AI auditor’) as businesses experiment with ways to integrate AI. This suggests using AI in an architectural firm will bring with it a re-ordering of jobs instead of simply displacing architects.”

Greaves’ fourth signpost is a “more careful delineation of responsibility between humans and highly capable AI”, including “examples of actual delegation of legal accountability to a piece of software instead of to a person who serves as a professional guarantor of its outcomes”.

Greaves concludes that working to realise his 2034 vision, the ideal outcome will become “increasingly critical as the architecture profession strives to tackle the larger challenges, including creating a built environment fit for a changing population amid a climate emergency”.

Responsibility to investigate

RIBA Horizons 2034: Technological Innovation is edited by Phil Bernstein, associate dean and professor adjunct at the Yale School of Architecture. He said: “If the original vision of BIM as frictionless digital collaboration was never realised, is it likely that AI-enabled, high resolution, data-driven, computationally intensive processes will reach that goal?

“Here lies the critical logic behind framing this section as ‘Technology Innovation’ rather than ‘The Future of More Cool Technology in AEC’. The title implies a responsibility of the architectural profession and their collaborators to not simply demand and occasionally implement every new tool offered by the emerging AI-powered technology. They must also rigorously investigate how the built environment is produced, determining which processes to embrace, reject, or modify.”

RIBA Horizons 2034: Technological Innovation is part of the RIBA Horizons 2034 series, which interrogates the global mega-trends predicted to shape society, the built environment, and the architectural profession by 2034. Previous scans focused on the environmental challenge, the economics of the built environment, and population change. A final report summarising the series will be published this summer. 

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