Architecture and Artificial Intelligence
Imagine an era when robots and Artificial Intelligence (AI) overshadow mankind and his abilities, an era that is almost upon us. How can architects and designers be relevant at such times when technology takes over? How can AI be put to use to perfect design solutions? Motasem Albanna, a technology hoarder based in Doha, gives us some insights into the future of designing with AI.
“AI (algorithms developed by human) should be trained on the right set of data model. And the by the word “right” I mean sufficient in quantity and quality so as the AI would understand the data patterns that may best fit our requirements to fulfil the needs.”
Motasem Albanna is a Technical Manager, Autodesk Professional, BIM expert, trainer, but most importantly, he is someone who eats, drinks and consumes technology to make life effortless for him and those around him. An advocate of innovation and currently an avid promoter of Artificial Intelligence (Ai) and its foray into all aspects of life, Motasen is actively engaged in research on Robotics and AI and also on Building Information Modelling.
“I am a Civil Engineer, working in the capacity of the Technical Office Manager at Bojamhoor Trading and Contracting Company which is one of the most successful contracting firms in the State of Qatar. Being in such a position with the passion of automating all daily workflows, I have been doing several research and development activities that came up with automated solutions for the team working in our ongoing project of New College of Law at Qatar University,” he says.
We find out more about AI from him and ask him whether it will truly affect the work of designers and challenge the existence of such a skillset in the next century.
He initially takes us through the basics of the most used acronym of the current century, AI, that is said to be poised to be the new industrial revolution of technology.
“AI according to Wikipedia is a machine which mimics human cognition,” says Motasem, “To elaborate, it is a system’s ability to correctly interpret external data, to learn from such data, and to use those learnings to achieve specific goals and tasks through flexible adaptation.”
“It is about processing big data, learning from it, analysing it, assuming where need be, adapting, predicting, finding patterns and then from all this generating the most valuable decisions in life,” says Motasem.
AI is preferred because it has fewer errors, is of higher quality, has less downtime, higher productivity, and is more energy efficiency.
AI has proven to be extremely efficient in certain industries like the health care, and automobile industry; in the former for evaluation of CT scans, surgical procedures requiring high precision and in the automotive industry in transport systems and the development of self-driving cars, the mass production of which is still under debate. In the military too, Ai has proven to be reliable in lethal autonomous weapons and unmanned combat aerial vehicles.
Internet of Things is also an AI by-product that through the internet which provides everyday objects with network connectivity, allows them to generate, send, and receive data and which is marked to be the next technological turn of the century.
A recent report by Economic Intelligence speculated on the job scene that would turn redundant for certain skillsets. It said that 1.8 million jobs were expected to be lost by AI by 2020. However, 2.3 million jobs will be created, making AI a net job creator. 84% of employers see AI as a tool to gain a competitive advantage while 75% see it as a way to enter new business areas.
So, while the future does not seem all that insecure for the new generation, it does speak about polishing certain skill sets and finding out the ones that might get redundant as the years pass by. How do architecture and design-based solutions benefit from AI?
Motasem tries to answer all our doubts as he propagates the technological advancements that are now fast approaching and changing lifestyles.
SCALE: How does AI help architects? Does it not take away the creativity that is associated with the profession?
AI helps provide architects with intuition through its algorithms.
To answer the second part of the question we need first to know how AI works: AI (algorithms which are merely developed by a human) should be trained on the right set of a data model. And by the word “right” I mean sufficient in quantity and quality so as the AI would understand the data patterns that may best fit our requirements to fulfil the needs.
SCALE: Can you tell us about the five big changes AI will bring into the world, immediately, in the design world or out of it?
- Generative Design: AI algorithms can provide an employer with a design given some basic requirements in a couple of minutes.
- Transportation: think about self-driving cars or unmanned vehicles.
- Healthcare: it would streamline the diagnosis of diseases and early discovery of drugs through simulations
- Customer Service: like the bots we all talk to on different service providers interfaces. Think about Google’s AI assistant bot which can plan your whole week, book tickets, order food, invite people to your party, draw a trip’s itinerary, and much more, by getting your requirements and dosing them into an IoT-reinforced ecosystem.
- Recommendation Engines: like what Netflix would recommend for you based on you watching history, Amazon recommends books, YouTube recommends media, Facebook recommends friends and events, and last but hardly the least Google recommends adds! So, an Ai would know your next choice better than you.
SCALE: It is said that robots and technology are not good at open-ended creative solutions, so how will we as designers benefit from all this?
Fine, I would agree to this, for the time being at least. But what if we had a different perspective and looked at the unforeseen added-value of AI doing no open-ended solution, wouldn’t that be beneficial for us to spare our human computational and thinking powers for open-ended creative solutions? I would say that it is a benefit per se.
However, digging deeper into that rabbit hole, it was found that open-ended creative solutions would need a conscious system that does not rely on data patterns alone, which exhibits probably the most arguable question in this sector of the industry: is AI conscious? A question that nobody is yet able to provide a cutting-edge answer to, despite the scientists’ trials to interrogate AI algorithms trying to understand what they are thinking of!
SCALE: Can you think of three technological programmes that have helped architects for a few decades now?
If we are talking about computer software programmes, there are quite literally dozens of such computer programmes that have helped the architects, I would think of:
- Computer-Aided Manufacturing software like Fusion 360, Inventor, Solidworks, and Qatia.
- Rendering and Simulation software like Unity 3D, Unreal Engine, Enscape3D, EnergyPLUS, Insight 360.
However, if we talk about training programmes for architects, nothing would help an architect like self-competence. I always say: don’t be just another brick in the wall! An architect should always be seeking to be unique.
SCALE: Which is your favourite innovation in design and how do you wish to use it?
I would say that “Open BIM” is my favourite as it provides a transparent and flexible information-sharing platform “as a universal approach” to all team members eliminating several risk layers the thing that assures a smoother delivery of a product.
I wish to use such a platform “being the main contractor” in the Project Life Cycle so as to handover the Facility Management team a federated BIM for their further proceedings, the thing which is promising to reduce both the product & CO2 cost among others.
Needleless to mention that Open BIM could produce a fertile ecosystem that might contain the right data set to train an Ai algorithm in the future, which will contribute to the AEC (architecture, engineering, and construction) industry.
While it is arguable whether AI is completely error-free, AI is about detecting patterns in massive data sets, where human intelligence would be severely taxed, believes another educationist-cum-engineer, though a nay-sayer of AI and its ability to take over jobs completely.
“What patterns to detect, however, is in the realm of human thinking,” he says, adding, “AI is not cognitive, or introspective, it merely finds the best match.”
While AI will help the designer or architect zero in on specific data that will eventually aid his planning process while designing, the craft of creation falls squarely on the shoulders of humans and that might not change for some time now…