In the near future, architects may become a thing of the past. Artificial intelligence (AI) is quickly advancing to a point where it can generate the design of a building completely autonomously. With the potential to create designs faster and with more accuracy than ever before, AI has the potential to revolutionize the architecture industry, leaving traditional architects out of the equation. This could spell the end of the profession as we know it, raising questions of what the future holds for architects in a world of AI-generated buildings.
I did not write the paragraph above. It was generated by ChatGPT, a highly impressive AI text generator that recently launched. Make no mistake: despite its innocuous-sounding name, ChatGPT is no simple chat bot. It is based on GPT3, a massive Generative Pre-Trained Transformer (GPT) that uses Deep Learning to produce human-like text from user-inputted prompts.
Social media is now awash with reports from across algorithmic echo-chambers about the jaw-dropping potential of ChatGPT. Conservative Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson was stunned by the outcomes generated by ChatGPT. “I asked it to write an essay written in a style that combines the King James Bible and the Tao Te Ching,” he said. “You know, any one of those things is hard. The intersection of all three, that’s impossible. Well, it wrote it in about three seconds, grammatically perfect, and quite impressive philosophically.” Democratic US Congressman Ted Lieu is freaked out by it and wants AI to be regulated. Systems under development right now – such as GPT4, a substantial improvement on GPT3 – will surely make the next version of ChatGPT even more impressive.
I first became alarmed by ChatGPT when a Brazilian colleague, upset that Neymar had not been selected to take the first penalty in the World Cup shoot out against Croatia, asked ChatGPT who should have been selected. The answer, it replied immediately, was Neymar. The ramifications of this are somewhat startling. Could football coaches now use ChatGPT for advice during a match? Or could others use it for more general advice? Could we not use ChatGPT, for example, for advice on which material to specify for a building? In fact, could not anyone else do so – including non-architects?
Architects have finally woken up to the extraordinary potential of AI. This is mainly because of the remarkable capability of GPT3-based “diffusion models” – such as DALL-E, MidJourney and Stable Diffusion – to generate images. The quality of the images generated can be simply astonishing. Amazing as they are, however, these images are a potential trap. Some architects have become obsessed with them to the point that they are overlooking the real issue. Ultimately, the AI revolution is not about image production, but about the assistance that AI can offer throughout the entire design process.
ChatGPT is already putting some jobs at risk – and not necessarily the jobs you might think. We have all seen Amazon distribution plants or Tesla factory floors with hardly a human being in sight, and we might imagine that blue collar workers would be the first to go. But progress in robotics has been relatively slow. Simple tasks, such as selecting and picking up a brick, remain challenging for a robotic arm.
Meanwhile, AI has been racing ahead, to the point that ChatGPT is now quite capable of writing code. As software engineer Metehan Ozten puts it: “This is terrifying. What ChatGPT means is that probably within five years from now, software engineers will be obsolete.” Be afraid. Be very afraid.