In Dr Marson’s monthly column, he’ll be chronicling his thoughts and opinions on the latest developments, trends, and challenges in the Smart Buildings industry and the wider world of construction. Whether you're a seasoned pro or just starting out, you're sure to find something of interest here.

As I did some channel hopping the other weekend I landed on the original Terminator film. Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as a cyborg assassin sent back in time. Watching this classic piece of sci-fi, it struck me how similar the capabilities are of Cyberdyne Systems Model T101 to the artificial intelligence tools that anyone can freely use on the internet today. Machines can mimic someone’s voice with applications like Resemble, recognise images (like Google’s Vision AI) and they can even stand back up if you push them over - just like some of the robotics capabilities that many in the construction world already have on their sites! If someone were to stitch those together, we’d certainly be in trouble.

As the abilities of generative AI grow, so does the number of overnight AI specialists in my LinkedIn feed. If you believe everything you read on LinkedIn you might think you’re the only one that hasn’t tamed the might of AI and automated your entire business (or prepared for SkyNet).

I’m a bit more cynical. I can certainly see the potential, but I don’t know how we get there…

Picture credit: Orion Pictures

Initially, one of the best ways that I can see using something like a Bard or ChatGPT is the writing of specification documents. Going from what you need your smart building to do by writing the necessary technical detail to get you there will be a huge productivity and quality gain. I’ve even seen an interesting piece of software that read through construction specs and finds overlaps, gaps and conflicts – and then tries to resolve them.

I would also like to see some automated testing, commissioning, problem-solving and sign-offs across the systems. The AI could then instruct it’s human operator on where they need to be involved to help get to a well-commissioned system. The idea of self-healing systems also excites me – the thought of some troubleshooting in networking, data-flow or anomalous data being automated sounds like the dream for many operating buildings.

As the industry races to build tools that improves the speed-to-market and quality of smart building features and the designs that get us there, I think we’ll start to see locked-off and well-protected specialist training sets that give the secret sauce behind these capabilities.

One thing that worries me, as with all systems, is rubbish-in – rubbish-out. If machines start to scale and therefore standardise these capabilities, will we start to see the exact same, “cookie-cutter” designs being deployed in most buildings? Will we use the uniqueness of experience and sense of place, disappear?

A second concern would be the increase in expectations that we’d have from our design teams. Knowing that they have these productivity tools worries me that we’ll see further commoditisation of valuable expertise. I’d prefer they used that time for some research and development!

Even with all this potential for improvement and development, maybe Terminator’s Judgement Day will come before all of our 2030 net zero carbon deadlines? Here’s to hoping that Net Zero comes first…

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Matthew Marson is an experienced leader, working at the intersection of technology, sustainability, and the built environment. He was recognised by the Royal Academy of Engineering as Young Engineer of the Year for his contributions to the global Smart Buildings industry. Having worked on some of the world’s leading smart buildings and cities projects, Matthew is a keynote speaker at international industry events related to emerging technology, net zero design and lessons from projects. He was an author in the Encyclopaedia of Sustainable Technologies and a published writer in a variety of journals, earning a doctorate in Smart Buildings.