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What other questions should we be asking?

What about the ethics? While industrialised construction and the increasing use of automation and robotics to build our communities of the future, is a more efficient, cost effective, faster, safer and practical move forward, what about the ethics of a displaced workforce?

Where will the site labour of yesterday and today fit into the automated construction world of tomorrow?

In a paper presented at the MIT Technology’s Review EmTech Next Conference, the Vice Chancellor for Research at the University of California, Pramod Khargonekar, and Associate Vice Chancellor for Research at the State University of New York, Meera Sampath, address this issue.

Entitled Socially Responsible Automation – A Framework for Shaping the Future, they identified four levels of progress towards automation:

  • Level 0 – cost-focused automation where technology is used solely for financial benefit
  • Level 1 – performance-driven automation where technology is often used to do the ‘heavy lifting’ with humans still required to provide skills to fill in the gaps
  • Level 2 – worker-centred automation where the business goals are both worker development and performance optimisation
  • Level 3 – socially responsible automation where automation is use to drive improved opportunities for humans
At the end of the day, humans both create and control technology.At the end of the day, humans both create and control technology.

Will our unique human 'craft' skills be lost?

A 2017 study by Gartner Research predicted that while 1.8 million jobs would be lost worldwide by 2020 due to automation, 2.3 million new jobs would be created. As history has taught us, any new processes or transformations result in temporary job losses, followed by a readjustment as new opportunities emerge, and researchers believe that automation, particularly when combined with the human skills required to drive new technology, will be no different.

The key is upskilling and job enrichment. As machines increasingly take over low-level, mundane and heavy-lift tasks, humans will be required to hone their skills even further, developing new, smarter ways of working.

While it might mean that robots take over some of the traditional ‘crafts’ we have seen in construction, such as carpentry, bricklaying and electrical wiring, skills in programming, coding, detailing, customising and optimising will come to the fore.

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What should we be asking?

  1. What needs to change in the current design process to allow the wider adoption of industrialised construction?
  2. How can the digital documentation the design industry produces be enhanced?
  3. How will industrialised construction create a place of belonging in cities and communities?
  1. What new business models will be required for industrialised construction to accelerate?
  2. How do industrialised construction and design flair co-exist?
  3. Do we need to integrate more technology into the process to enable it to scale?
  4. Is there a place for a hybrid version of industrialised construction in the industry?
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