Author, entrepreneur, and futurist, Martin Ford, speaking at the ULI Asia Pacific Summit 2023 in Singapore.

Artificial intelligence, whether we notice it or not, is already present in our lives today.

And, according to bestselling author, entrepreneur, and futurist, Martin Ford, who delivered the closing keynote address at the ULI Asia Pacific Summit 2023, artificial intelligence, or AI, will soon “touch, impact and influence” every aspect of our daily lives.

“AI will be used for everything and influence every aspect of society and culture,” he said. “Every business, every organization, and every industry would integrate and be dependent on AI, and it will evolve into something omnipresent and [so] important to our future.”

The real-estate industry, Ford said, would be no different than other industries in that it would be both positively and negatively impacted by AI in several aspects. The professions related to the industry would also be transformed in many ways.

The Next Industrial Revolution

Ford, who has written four books on AI and its anticipated impact, including Rise of the Robots (published in 2015) and Rule of the Robots (2021), spoke of his conviction that humanity is now “on the leading edge of a massive disruption.”

“Ultimately, I think this disruption would be on the scale of a new industrial revolution,” he said, comparing the potential reach and scale of AI to how electricity is ubiquitous in our lives.

This disruption has led to breakthroughs and innovations that Ford noted would have been considered science fiction just a short time ago—think self-driving cars, or digital assistants, or large-language models behind applications such as ChatGPT.

Due to accumulated advances in computing power, in accordance with Moore’s Law, and the massive amounts of data that are being collected at all times throughout the world today, machines and algorithms are now being endowed with “true cognitive abilities.”

That is to say, they can “think” to make decisions and solve problems, they are getting closer to human-level intelligence, or what would be known as artificial general intelligence, and they can also learn by gaining insights and making predictions.

This represents a paradigm shift and underscores all the progress that we have seen thus far, said Ford, who added that it wasn’t too long ago that people asserted that computers could only do what they had been programmed to do.

The notion that computing was limited to programming parameters has really been “turned on its head” by algorithms and machines that can essentially learn and program themselves now.

“This has opened up a whole range of new possibilities and a new approach to computing,” he added, as AI can be given an objective and access to big data, and it can figure out how to solve problems and learn how to solve those problems better.

Innovation, Creativity, and Progress

“[AI] is going to be transformative and bring enormous benefits to all of humanity. It’s going to enhance innovation and creativity, in science, engineering, medicine, and drive increasing progress in many, many areas, across the board,” Ford said.

When it comes to real estate and urban planning, AI would enable architects, civil engineers, and other professionals in the field to innovate and achieve greater productivity.

For example, a team conceiving a new structure could ask an AI application to generate photographic images to render the new building. The app could also display almost instantaneous changes and provide fresh renditions in response to prompts.

“Imagine that this collaboration or ‘conversation’ with AI could be integrated with virtual reality,” said Ford. “It would be experiential and an enormous boost to efficiency.”

With the advent of smart cities, which would generate significant amounts of data via sensors distributed throughout, urban planners could learn how people move through cities, where they congregate, and how they use resources.

AI-driven predictions and real-time insights would allow for more efficient operations, aid in the planning of future cities, and would become something indispensable going forward.

For all its benefits, AI would also be disruptive to society and to the job market where its impact would be seen in both blue-collar and white-collar jobs.

Robots Moving In

In as little as five years from now, the state of employment in many blue-collar environments, including warehouses, factories, fast food, and retail, could soon be transformed as machines with increasingly human-like dexterity can reduce the need for human labor.

“Anywhere people are doing relatively predictable tasks, robots are going to move in,” said Ford. “This would have a dramatic impact on employment and we are going to have to think about the implications of that.”

Such impact would also be seen in knowledge work and impact people with university and even graduate degrees. Virtually any job in front of a computer today, similarly involving predictable tasks, would be “highly susceptible” to automation.

Whether it’s corporate finance, legal work, or journalism, it’s becoming “pretty clear that having just more education is not going to be an adequate protection against the impact of AI,” said Ford. “This is something for society to find a solution for.”

In the real-estate sector, as more jobs disappear in the not-too-distant future, the implications for office spaces and business districts, and our cities, could be more consequential than we would like to believe and really affect every aspect of society.

Despite the disruption and changes on the horizon, and other AI-related risks such as security threats, deepfakes, algorithmic bias, autonomous weapons or AI superintelligence that could supplant the human race, Ford is optimistic that the benefits of AI outweigh the risks.

Solutions, through human ingenuity aided by AI, will be found.

Embrace the Benefits of AI

“Our objective should be to embrace AI and really maximize the benefits, to fully leverage it on behalf of everyone,” Ford said. “If we can embrace those benefits while addressing the dangers, this is going to be an enormously important tool for us going forward.

“I think it’s going to be an indispensable tool for solving the problems that we face in the future, things like climate change, finding new sources of clean energy, addressing global poverty, having medical breakthroughs, and so forth.”

And for all of the fantastic progress that has already come about as a result of AI, Ford believes that in time, there will be a lot more to behold.

“In many ways, we really haven’t seen anything yet.”