In Commercial Real Estate? Forget Blockchain and Bitcoin, AI is where you should be focussing

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The great Dotcom Bubble peaked in March 2000. Over the next 18 months trillions of dollars of investment capital evaporated. The Great Bitcoin/Blockchain bubble feels very much like it did in 1998-99. One cannot move without being accosted by someone screaming that you just have to get on board today. Of course such bubbles are tenacious things, and just as the smartest man ever, Sir Isaac Newton, eventually could not resist going all in with the South Sea Bubble (only to lose most of his money) today I am seeing very many smart people bowing down before the call of crypto.

If you are one of them you most likely will lose your money as well. Not because you are wrong per se, but just as in the Dotcom Bubble, you are probably a decade too early. Most of the ‘crazy’ ideas that raised hundreds of millions of dollars in the 90’s blew up not because they were bad ideas but because the technology did not exist to enable them to actually happen. There were very many 1990’s simulacrums of Netflix for example.

Blockchains will have huge utility, as will crypto currencies (the two by the way HAVE to go together - a Blockchain without a cryptocurrency IS NOT a Blockchain) but not for a while. There are real technical hurdles to cross before this happens. So my advice is to put no more than 5% of your wealth into the crypto market and forget about it. If you are lucky and invest in the winner you will do extremely well. But there will be many losers and no, you are not bright enough to know which will be which. No one is.

Put your real effort, and money, into AI, Artificial Intelligence, because this is an area whose time has come. A term first mentioned in 1956 at a conference at Dartmouth College, AI has already gone through two prolonged ‘Winters’ but over the last few years has advanced in leaps and bounds as a combination of improved algorithms, massive computing power and unprecedented access to vast quantities of data has enabled theory to move into practice. 

Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google sums up the current situation perfectly: “We are now witnessing a new shift in computing: the move from a mobile-first to an AI-first world”

Artificial Intelligence has had a storming half decade. In just five years it has gone from the world of science fiction to mainstream discourse. Autonomous vehicles, robots that can perform backflips, computers that now rule the roost at Poker and GO as well as the long since vanquished Chess; all around us we read of one new breakthrough after another. According to Gartner’s famed Hype Cycle, Machine Learning (a subset of AI) is now at ‘peak hype’, meaning that we can expect widespread adoption to be just 2-5 years away.

In three key areas AI has enabled computers to rapidly go from ‘Useless to Utility’. Computer Vision (face and image recognition), Voice recognition and NLP (natural language processing) have all moved from being 20-30 percent error prone a few years ago to now being on a par, or even surpassing in certain circumstances, human ability.

In effect computers can now see, hear and read as well as we can.

And in the commercial real estate industry that really matters. The ability to understand the build environment by pointing a camera at it, to read the voluminous quantities of paperwork that weaves its way around the industry, and to be able to interact with our customers (everyone who enters into any of our spaces and places) just by listening to what they have to say, is truly a transformational power we now have at our disposal.

For example, what if we could enable customers to search for space visually, by choosing images that appeal to them, instead of making them fill in forms and describe what it is they are after? Or understand the ‘mood’ of visitors to our shopping centres, or find potential new development sites by analysing drone footage? Or understand exactly how people are using our offices, or shops, the better to configure them for reality as opposed to hunch?

What if we could analyse all correspondence that goes out of or into our businesses in real time, to look for patterns, insights and ‘unknown unknowns’. Or prioritise work orders, deal flows, job applications automatically and route them appropriately. Or have reports collated, processed and presented in realtime that we can then spend time analysing rather than labouring over.

What if we could support our customers better by asking them to just talk to us? 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year we should be able to answer the needs of our customers in a way that suits them. We should be able to talk to our buildings, and have them understand us; it’s too hot, or cold, or bright or dark, or stuffy. Where is X, or who is Y? Just walk around the City and see how many people are talking into the ether, plugged in as they are to the microphone and headphones; Voice is the new computing interface. 

In an AI powered world the commercial real estate industry will be able to do three things, of huge importance, that it cannot do today:

First, we will be able to understand exactly how our buildings are working, at a very granular level, and in so doing we will be able to run them far more efficiently and effectively.

Secondly we will be able to understand exactly how everyone who uses our buildings, spaces and places really does use them. Where do they go, what do they use, when do they use it; all this will enable us to define, refine and curate the UX, the user experience, of all our customers in a way we simply cannot do now. This will be a true #SpaceAsAService world where we will be able to provide exactly the spaces and services that people need, wherever and whenever they need them.

And thirdly, we will be able to understand exactly who our customers are, what they need, desire and are pleased by in a way we’ve not been able to to date. 

As we understand how our buildings operate, how they are used, and the needs and requirements of those who use them better, we will be able to build a better built environment for them. Today, research tells us that roughly 50% of office occupiers do not find their offices help them be productive, and roughly 50% of the time these spaces are not in use anyway. With wise use of Artificial intelligence, coupled with the very best human skills we should be able to do much better than this. 

So forget about Blockchain and Bitcoin for now; concentrate on learning how AI can, and will, radically and rapidly transform what it means to be in the real estate industry.