Architects, fancy the future?
Did you know that recent researches predict that 65% of children entering the school system today will end up working in roles that don't exist yet? Well, if you think that sounds crazy just imagine what your grandmother thinks of people whose entire career is built online, whose businesses are set up on Instagram, and people who work with NFTs. While a lot of such job roles are sprouting in today's digital landscape it is only obvious that many existing roles are becoming obsolete. The major factor contributing to this aspect is essentially the proliferation of technology in all facets of our life. There are two ways this has manifested, one where the accessibility of technology has directly impacted the accessibility of the particular service or product and therefore no need for a middle man to facilitate it, similar to travel agents or even librarians. And two where the job itself is automated and mechanized to be done more efficiently whereby the worker is eliminated, self-checkout supermarkets, and 3D printing facilities present this situation to respective workers.
There are wide discussions on how automation is the future of work. It is estimated by Forbes that by 2025 The demand for workflow automation processes is expected to spike to $26 billion from $5 billion in 2018. More than 25% of companies use automation in their hiring process, and by 2022, 70% of customer service interactions will leverage some sort of AI automation technology. Automation and artificial intelligence (AI) are transforming businesses and will contribute to economic growth via contributions to productivity. While there will be enough work to go around (barring extreme scenarios), society will need to grapple with significant workforce transitions and dislocation. Workers will need to acquire new skills and adapt to the increasingly capable machines alongside them in the workplace. They may have to move from declining occupations to growing and, in some cases, new occupations.
A 2016 World Economic Forum report found that in many industries and countries, the most sought-after occupations or specialties did not exist 10 or even 5 years ago, and the pace of change is set to accelerate. In the old days, when you entered college, you were trained in a functional area for a functional job, where you would spend most of your career. The paradigm shift of the digital age is far from functional knowledge but about the ability to be fluid in your skill set and in your knowledge.
The question is - Will architecture as a profession be the next in line to face the fate of obliteration?
Architecture, even though one of the oldest professions in the world has only been formally established as a profession in the last 200 years. Informally architects have always been around, building royal palaces, temples, and churches all across the world across civilizations. The pioneering moment in the modern professional scenario has definitely been the establishment of the Bauhaus and the subsequent enhancement of the profession. The Digital Revolution and the Fourth Industrial Revolution have given new meaning to the professions of architect, engineer, and designer in society with new paradigms to be thought about.
It is no news that technology has immensely catalyzed the progress of architecture as a discipline and as a profession. Now with the help of extremely sophisticated algorithms and software, virtually anything is possible. Without the support of such software, we might have missed out on geniuses like Zaha Hadid. Today one can visualize and execute any concoction that one's mind can muster. So, it is not entirely absurd to think that maybe this software could replace the mind behind it, right? After all, robots are executing surgeries on the human brain.
It's not a novel question. As computers were first used in the field of architecture in the 1960s, many researchers started coming up with ways to automate building design. In an era when people had to deliver documents by hand, their work concentrated on optimizing floor plans to cut down on walking times. The Automated Architect by Nigel Cross (Methuen, 1977), for example, described how computers were ideal for carrying out the laborious calculations needed to calculate travel time between rooms. Researchers speculated that computers might eventually be able to optimize floor plans based on different criteria.
This study would largely turn out to be unsuccessful. It turns out—to no one's surprise, including architects—that walking distance has little bearing on the success of most buildings, despite the fact that computers could optimize floor plans based on walking distances. Despite the researchers' faith in quantitative building science, it was almost impossible to quantify aspects of architecture, such as construct-ability, without also accounting for qualitative aspects, such as context, aesthetics, and spatial experience. It is only fair that these qualities remain the forte for architects as we spend a good deal of our time trying to understand and learn these. While it seems like a convenient solution to just upload a site drawing and a set of requirements for the computer to draw up appropriate solutions as drawings, it is not the most ideal situation. The impact of human experiences and spatial understanding is something that can neither be taught nor fed into a computer for it to follow.
University of Oxford researchers Carl Frey and Michael Osborne have estimated that architects are one of the least likely professions to be automated in the next 20 years. They estimate a 1.8% chance of architecture being automated while it's in the range of 80s for professions like accountants. The key for architects lies in learning and amassing skills that machines can never perfect. Skills that are not manageable for the objective working of computers like creative and critical thinking. In short, the essence of an architect lies in everything that the computer is not.