Artificial intelligence in the built environment

The real estate and construction sector is enormously important to individuals, communities, and the economy as a whole. After all, we grow up, work, and spend our free time in the built environment. The way we collect, process, and use information related to the built environment has both an immediate and a long-term impact on our well-being.

From search engines to financial services to marketing, artificial intelligence (AI) already affects our daily lives in many ways – even if we may not always notice it. When it comes to construction and real estate though, AI applications are still quite rare. That’s beginning to change, however – meaning that now is the right time to start getting acquainted with the possibilities and limitations of AI in the built environment.

Key point


In this course you’ll learn what AI is, what machine learning is capable of, and what conditions help make AI projects successful. You’ll also become familiar with AI solutions for real estate and construction and learn how to plan an AI project of your own.

The value chain of the real estate and construction industries, from land and raw materials to buildings and infrastructure, is complicated. In practice, this value chain is made up of several networked systems and countless actors, each with their own goals and business models. For this course, we’ll be using the value chain description shown in the chart below:

Key point
Real estate and construction value chain
Real estate and construction value chain

The real estate and construction value chain

  • Urban planning including land use planning and zoning

  • Real estate development and planning

  • New construction and renovation of buildings and infrastructure

  • Property management and property maintenance

  • Demolition and recycling

The foundation for digitalization

What are the current and future impacts of digital technology on the real estate and construction industries? Both of these sectors have a conservative reputation, although in reality aspects of them were already beginning to be digitalized decades ago. That said, there are still plenty more digital opportunities to take advantage of.

Data on the built environment is increasingly generated from environmental surveys, real estate systems, and planning processes. At its best, data is location bound, standards compliant, and maintained – and in this regard the construction and real estate industries still have room for improvement.

In construction, data processing has been largely based on manual work and paper documents. Now, however, the situation is changing as various automatic data collection systems have become more common.

The digital future

Design, calculation, and building automation are the most advanced aspects of construction in terms of digitalization. Many state and municipal processes are also now being digitalized, and the public sector provides open data for developers to use.

In recent years, the use of digital technology has progressed quickly, with rapid gains emerging from the digitalization of paper processes. A more profound change is also underway in response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has accelerated digitalization due to the need to quickly overcome challenges related to remote work and health threats.

Looking to the future, AI will be an important technology for real estate and construction. Various sensors, cameras, and mobile devices are able to provide data for AI applications from real estate, mobility, logistics, and construction sites.

AI and automation – a threat or an opportunity?

Using AI to process data makes it possible to implement solutions in cases where human labor is too expensive or too slow to be feasible. Machine learning can help us predict housing prices, the need for structural repairs, or energy savings. It can also be used to analyze how a construction project is progressing, whether occupational safety regulations are being complied with, which demolition waste is recyclable, and how nearby residents perceive the construction site.

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AI will create 97 million new jobs

The media often cites automation as a “job killer”; in a recent report, the World Economic Forum (WEF) estimates that by 2025, machinery and automation will make 85 million jobs unnecessary. Yet the WEF also predicts that in the same period, 97 million new jobs will be created.

Read more about the future of jobs in the WEF article.

AI and machine learning are fast becoming critical tools for experts, field workers, and decision makers. The result of this can be new observations of reality, better predictability, and new opportunities to produce a more sustainable environment.

Especially in the construction industry, there has been a shortage of skilled labor in recent years. The use and automation and AI can gradually alleviate the shortage of experts and increase the productivity of construction sites by improving planning and management. With the help of AI, workers will be freed up to focus on construction-related tasks.

If you’ve already completed the Elements of AI (or an equivalent course) you can skim through sections 1.2 to 1.4 – just don’t forget to do the exercises!

Next section
II. Artificial intelligence is already a part of everyday life