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Recap - Developers in the age of Big Data and AI

On day three of #PlanTech Week, we hosted a Lunchtime Lecture featuring a series of presentations from key thinkers and innovators in the real estate and urban planning sector.

The session featured Anthony Slumbers of Digital Strategist and Estates Today Ltd, Michelle Hannah from Cast Consultancy, Hugh Lacey from Pioneer Property Services and Jonny Britton from Land Insight.

With Google making a move into real estate development and advances in artificial intelligence allowing machines to make investment decisions, our speakers discussed if software could replace elements of a housing developers job.

Anthony kicked off the session by outlining ten signals that indicated real change in the real estate industry. They ranged from future technology predictions to analysis of current trends to stories that could impact or shape the real estate industry as we know it today. One example is the story of Google’s parent company utilising their cyborg labs subsidiary to develop 12 acres of downtown Toronto. Would make the idea of the real estate industry redundant? That idea may not be so far off. Considering 45% of the population in the USA live close to an Amazon fulfilment centre, the third most valuable company in the world could render the majority of the retail industry obsolete. Anthony reinforces this point with statistics that demonstrate that a third of large-scale shopping centres in the US are currently on “death row”. Other signals included a future of advanced text recognition which would render our voices as key tools to be utilised, not keyboards, customer services and property services operated via chat-bot.

Michelle’s presentation touched on the impact of digital disruption on the construction industry. She posed the question of ‘why worry about modernisation in construction?’ and pointed to the ‘Farmer Review: modernise or die’ which signalled 10 failures in the modern housing industry where it is failing to meet demand. Issues such as low productivity, poor predictability, an inability to accurately deliver plans concerning cost, time and quality, skill shortages and inconsistent approaches towards training and research and development have all contributed to its downfall. Michelle argued that a pre-manufacturing may be the best method to overcoming these signal failures. Pre-manufacturing is not pre-fabrication, the former is designed to help change the way we design and lead to better quality developments. Michelle’s key take away was that change in the manufacturing industry will be led by industry disruptors, innovators and new entrants seizing the initiative.

Hugh looked at the question from a different perspective; he noted that for us to tackle the rising cost of housing we must utilise big data to create a ‘viability model’. This will help produce an accurate outcome on how viable a piece of land is for a specific purpose. Viability models bridge the knowledge gap between local authorities and councils who can both be flawed in their approach to planning. There is a constant battle between assessing the commercial return of a piece of land and its social benefit. A viability model would have to face up to this challenge and planning can then be used to drive the delivery process.

Jonny concluded the presentations by stating that we need more standards in the planning system. His work at Land Insight involves streamlining the process of identifying and assessing land with the potential for new housing. By analysing big data, we can optimise the housing environment for the user which is the key to success.

Following on from this, the speakers took part in a panel discussion chaired by Future Cities Catapult Urban Design Planning Lead, Euan Mills. Audience members asked a variety of questions, ranging from “Can Artificial Intelligence predict gentrification?” to “Are co-working spaces just a fad?”. The speakers concluded that Artificial Intelligence should be seen as an efficiency, not viewed with fear and that Big Data can be used to tell us how people use space.

You can watch the entire Lunchtime Lecture on our Youtube channel.

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