Artificial Intelligence turns digital interactions into garbage and physical interactions into gold. Here’s how.
Technology makes it easier for us to work, shop, and socialize remotely. But it doesn’t stop there. It also makes us distracted, skeptical of established truths, and lonelier than ever. Technology’s impact on on our lives is about to intensify dramatically driven by advances in Artificial Intelligence. This will present new challenges for all humans, and a great opportunity to operators of physical space.
Nothing Digital is Real
“We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters” said Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and the first outside investor in Facebook. This was in 2013, as part of a debate with Marc Andreessen, founder of Netscape and early investor in Slack, Twitter and dozens of other startups.
Today, the flying cars are just around the corner, but the impact of Twitter’s “140 characters” has been much deeper than predicted. We’ve seen it used to devastating effect in Donald Trump’s successful campaign to become the world’s most powerful man, and, more broadly, to undermine the credibility of media, government, and law enforcement institutions.
It’s about to get much worse. Technology currently makes it easy to spread lies. Soon, it will make it easy to create new truths. Every mobile phone now has the ability to swap faces of people in videos. The fakes are still pretty easy to spot, but they are improving quickly.
As this video of Princess Leia shows, the results are comparable — at least at lower resolution — to the multimillion dollar systems used to create the latest Star Wars movies. And on a proper computer, anyone can now create Deep Fakes, and insert their favorite actor into a scene he never participated in (as in this fake Nicolas Cage video).
Replacing faces is still challenging, but using someone’s real face to deliver a fake message is already pretty easy — as shown by this video of President Obama. And Artificial Intelligence can do more than just alter our existing media: it can turn written sentences into visual images, create fake human faces, and mimic human voice.
Online Interactions are Public Interactions
Beyond the risks of fake and manufactured identities, online interactions are also plagued by privacy concerns. This has been known for a while, but seems to be coming to a head with recent EU regulation concerning data protectionand US plans to investigate Facebooks’s data protection practices.
Shifting consumer preferences make it harder for online “operators” to make money, particularly since their business models are heavily geared towards monetizing data — as opposed to charging direct fees.
People are Becoming Amenities
While negative forces are limiting the attractiveness of online interactions, there are also positive forces pulling people offline. The more we are isolated by technology, the more we yearn to see other people.
The nature of work itself is changing. As Daniel H. Pink points out, the way we work has evolved from farming, to factory work, to knowledge work, and now — to creative work. The latter requires humans to interact, collaborate, empathize, and recognize patterns. It is anchored by meaningful experiences that motivate employees, influence colleagues, and engage customers (Breather, a flexible space operator, has a cool video about this).
Office spaces are becoming more dense than ever, and full of shared spaces. Shops are becoming more experiential and social, less focused on generating direct sales. Even supermarkets are suddenly becoming more social, drawing people who seek nothing more than the company of others. Hotels are experiencing a backlash against over-automation. And in Silicon Valley, offline dating is booming.
Physical Data is better than Digital Data
The opportunity for operators of physical space is not limited to providing new customer experiences. It also includes optimizing the cost structure and tapping into new revenue channels based on better use of data.
As WeWork recent experiment shows, machine learning (a “primitive” form of AI) can also help design more efficient spaces, increase density and wellbeing, and predict how they will be used.
Anything that happens within a physical space can be tracked and converted to structured data. AI can analyze security camera and other sensor and identify what objects people bring in and out of the space, discern emotions from looking at people’s faces, and even read lips.
And it doesn’t stop there. A small white box on the wall, emitting weak radio signals, is sufficient to identify changes to a person’s movements that indicate changes in brain function — enabling AI to begin to predict Alzheimer long before it becomes fully apparent. And by simply looking into a person’s eye, AI can now predict his risk of heart disease.
Facebook makes billions from knowing which brands and bands you like while browsing in your spare time. Imagine the value of knowing what you do, talk about, talk to, and feel like during the most active hours of your day— including knowing what you need or what ails you even before you become aware of it yourself. The potential is immense, and so are the privacy risks.
The Past is the Future
Data and technology present tempting opportunities for real estate developers and operators. To create long-term value, they will have to look beyond the low-hanging fruits of monetizing personal data and use technology to create experiences that are more like the past than the future: Less distracting; more conducive to thinking and creative work; physically pleasant at a visceral level; and delivered with a simple and clear business model — letting people know what they’re getting and what they’re giving in return.
Come to think of it, this sounds a lot like traditional real estate.
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