The Built Environment: AI technologies, engineers and the common good

Authors: Deb Niemeier*, University of California - Davis
Topics: Transportation Geography, Development
Keywords: infrastructure, planning, artificial intelligence
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Gallier B, Sheraton, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Underlying ‘smart cities’ are virtual environments, smart infrastructure and intelligent agents. Sensors play a prominent role in monitoring building and bridge fatigue, and will eventually include the ability to make real-time adjustments to problems (Spencer et al, 2004). As infrastructure ages, bridge and structures will possess continuous monitoring and possibly self-repair capabilities. Deep learning is already being used to train autonomous vehicles (Chen et al, 2015), estimate flood levels in ungauged catchments (Aziz, et al 2017), and harvest and manage renewable energy (Mellit & Kalogirou, 2014). Not only will advances in virtual reality, augmented reality, data visualization and artificial intelligence reshape how the public engages with the built environment, these technologies will also reshape how engineers engage with infrastructure.

This talk will explore the engineer’s role in the planning and design of infrastructure with rapidly evolving technology. Historically, engineers have passively endorsed infrastructure choices as the will of society, knowing full well that some infrastructure choices do not serve the common good. As AI and other automated technologies take hold, infrastructure will gradually become “voiceless,” and yet will be ever more dynamically engaged in our lives. It will become increasingly problematic for engineers to maintain their neutral position in the dynamic and evolving world of AI technologies, which – by definition - are themselves constantly changing. Although many of these technologies are still in their infancy, already there is tension in the ways in which engineers are educated and must ultimately interact with the built environment they construct and maintain.

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