Used appropriately, artificial intelligence and the internet of things can help deliver buildings and infrastructure in line with Sadiq Khan’s ‘good growth’ agenda, says Dipa Joshi
Since 1990 I have lived in all four corners of the capital, and experienced everything that London offers, against a backdrop of rapid, irreversible change. While a lot of this change has benefited the capital and cemented its place as an international city, longstanding issues around housing, employment, connectivity and regulation now challenge London’s ability to be a place where people of all backgrounds can live, work and innovate.
So it is an honour to have been appointed as one of the Mayor’s Design Advocates, applying more than two decades of experience in architecture to help implement the Good Growth programme, which will tackle these problems head on.
We must think differently about design if we are to deliver the homes, jobs and infrastructure that Londoners need without undermining existing communities. Design needs to marry together innovative and smart technologies, and be guided by a firm understanding of what London needs to become a smarter city and to flourish.
We need to harness the power of new advancements such as the internet of things (IoT), M2M (Machine to Machine), artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain technologies. All too often these phrases are just thrown out as buzzwords to capture the media’s and politicians’ attention without thinking about their practical implementation, but they can have a meaningful impact on how we create and sustain London’s future.
For example, blockchain, which first emerged as the technology behind the crypto-currency Bitcoin, provides a secure distributed ledger. This could restore trust in the house-building industry, which has been dogged by accusations of rigging viability assessments and procurement processes. Once introduced, full transparency on the whole supply chain of data will be guaranteed from inception to delivery. This information will not only support and fast-track the delivery of the 50 per cent affordable housing target, but could also significantly improve procurement practices in the construction sector, and by default, the efficiency of the delivery model.
Handled badly, the smart cities revolution could become some dystopian nightmare
At the same time, blockchain will also enable smart contracts for Land Registry, property transactions, shared ownership, short-term leasing, rentals, insurance, ecosystem monitoring and new types of autonomous services and council revenue, ushering in a new era of openness while cutting out the middle man.
The internet of things – the interconnection of various devices that can receive and transmit data – will similarly allow individuals to have even greater insight into the inner workings of our city, and help combat major urban problems such as air pollution and climate change.
On an industrial scale and with the arrival of 5G wireless technology, the IoT will facilitate an unprecedented level of connectivity. Environmentally, each building will become its own node on a network where it discloses carbon efficiency in real time. Buildings that are non-compliant or inefficient will be revealed and flagged, allowing policy-makers to take appropriate action.
In combination with artificial intelligence, the IoT will power an unparalleled revolution in urban planning and design by bringing real-time, affordable and accurate data to power, protect, monitor, plan and ultimately serve the buildings, its inhabitants and the wider public realm.
Fundamentally, technology has the capacity to change our communities in profound ways, prying out previously unimaginable opportunities. The question is who gains from this new-found power. Handled badly, the smart cities revolution I’ve described could become some dystopian nightmare of centralised surveillance and regulation rather than an empowering tool for social betterment. That is why it is crucial there is involvement from all citizens, which is something I, along with my fellow design advocates, will champion.
Dipa Joshi is a director at Assael Architecture