Are we – as human beings – really progressing as per the same pace of the progress of Hi-Tech? or are we descending?
Are we moving towards being more intelligent and more efficient? or the other way around?
Does Artificial Intelligence really help us focus on what matters more or does it just do the exercises we should’ve been practicing to improve?
In architecture for example, with the rise of AutoCAD in the early 1990s, architects were stunned by this “magic” you can do with a computer, actual lines have been digitalize, the work that needed a full day could then simply be achieved within an hour, drafting mistakes could simply be “undone” instead of dumping a whole-day work to trash, every architecture student remembers very clearly that nightmare moment when a drop of ink ruined an A0 sheet that he had been working on all night long, that suddenly became history with the evolution of digital drafting where everything is virtual and every line is editable until you decide to print it out on paper, I was lucky enough to have witnessed this transition, a new bright era of architecture was ahead as everyone anticipated, however, that never happened!
As it happens with every new technology, the scenario – more or less – goes like that:
- The Dazzle stage: Wow! this thing is magic! it can do miracles!
You get astonished by how easy it is to do tasks that would take ages to be done manually such as hatching or copying/pasting and by the unquestionable accuracy of the machine comparing to the human hand, not to mention getting rid of the hassle and cost of using and maintaining sophisticated pens and drafting paper, it’s now all on-screen!
- The Frustration stage: Oh! it’s not as magical as I thought, it doesn’t do miracles that easy!
The first frustration comes when you print out a sheet and get surprised that it doesn’t look neither as it looks on the screen nor how it should look as per the standards of the profession, only then you realize that miracles don’t exist and that magic wands that would make your dreams come true with one click haven’t been invented yet! Then you start tweaking, fine-tuning and enhancing your work to appear in the proper shape, that consumes time, effort and know-how that you have not considered before, but you are still enthusiastic to invest time and effort on this promising solution.
- The Mitigation stage: Alright! who needs miracles anyway! I’ll work around it a little bit!
You keep trusting your new tool and relying on it, you dump the outdated techniques and never consider them anymore, however you end up consuming the same amount of time and effort to do the same jobs you were doing manually before because you – inevitably – get involved in tons of settings and properties and get stuck into endless complications and obstructions during the working process because you want to have the things you were promised, but you face the fact that it’s not that simple, yes you can hatch an area very easily and very accurately, but you’ll spend as much time in modifying the hatch properties as you’d do if you hatch it manually, or maybe you didn’t even need to hatch it!
- The Disaster stage: Oh Shit! it’s all messed up! I need to sort things out before it gets out of control!
You replace the hassle and cost of pens and paper by the hassle of computers, toners and software upgrades, and it never ends, you constantly chase updates and new editions of everything to keep yourself on the track, things actually get worse instead of the initial purpose of the whole approach, then you end up completely messed up!
- The Down-To-Earth stage: Hmmm, OK, let’s lower our expectations and get stuff done anyway!
You land on the ground of reality and you start rethinking and remodeling your plan since you are stuck here anyway and you cannot revert back to the old school methods, you struggle with best practices and expert advices for a while until you develop your own model that’s now more reasonable and realistic than ambitious or futuristic, you are now only willing to get the work done in just an acceptable quality and within reasonable cost and time frame, just the same way you were having it done before the invention of AutoCAD!
Now you get used to this model and keep developing it and stack expertise and practice until you build your own “legacy” that you become proud of, then all of a sudden you get introduced to the new breakthrough, the whole new level of the profession, BIM (Building Information Modeling) is there, it’s not a matter of digitizing drawings anymore, it’s digitalizing the whole construction industry, the whole project has been transformed to an endless enormous database where every tiny piece of information can be stored, analyzed, utilized, customized, modified and even manipulated in order to achieve the maximum level of accuracy and efficiency, a level that have far exceeded any threshold that any architect or engineer have ever dreamed of reaching!
it’s now the Revit era where every element is modeled in 3D, where extracting an elevation or cutting a section or even creating a perspective shot is a matter of a few clicks, where you can easily walk virtually through a project, where sophisticated schedules and calculations are done automatically, it’s everything needed to turn an architect’s life into a paradise, but – obviously – it doesn’t!
It’s the same loop again, but this time it’s much quicker, more aggressive and less tolerant, the flow this time doesn’t allow you to resist, it just washes out all your legacy and all the experience you have been stacking, all of that simply becomes “obsolete”, and you find yourself in the middle of a whole new matrix that you know absolutely nothing about, a completely new approach, new methods, new commands, even the few old commands that you are familiar with now perform in a completely different behaviour, it’s a mere disaster as much as it looks like a huge breakthrough!
It starts the same way, with a dazzle and with huge expectations, then the frustration, then the mitigation, then the disaster comes when you end up with a jungle of interrelated and yet conflicting files, links and groups that would knock down the supercomputers you’ve just purchased at astronomical price, it would take half of the day to open a file and print a few sheets, it would require you to get involved into sophisticated clash detection methods, it would sometimes act in a weird way that would embarrass you in front of your client, every architect has had that conversation – more or less – with a client at least once:
- why do these lines appear this way? don’t they have to be thicker (or thinner, or in a different shape, or shouldn’t even exist)?
- hmmm! aaaaah! I think this is how Revit acts in such situation!
- EXCUSE ME ?!
Then you finally get down to the ground again after a long struggle and several failures, you get used to the new technology (newer actually) and you build up your experience again, and you develop your own model and stack your own legacy again, but the more you stack of this computer-dependant talent, the more you lose of your human skills, with every elevation you create with just a mouse click you lose part of your ability to create an elevation on your own, the more you depend on machines to draft your designs the more you risk your hand skills and your sense of space, dimensions, proportions and – more important – the spirit, those senses that are the backbone of every architect’s skills, those skills that he has been developing since his first day in an architecture classroom, and this is being the case for old-school architects that spent years practising with the old-school methods and that can still – with some struggle – survive with just a sheet of paper and a set of drafting tools, I’d claim that the case for newer generations is a catastrophe, I’d bet that manually drafting a simple elevation as the one below would be a nightmare for a young architect that studied architecture after the beginning of the BIM era.
So, back to the primary question, is technology leading us towards our own progress? or are we gradually and voluntarily donating our skills to the machines? and what happens when the existing generations – those who witnessed both eras, before and after the hi-tech revolution – disappear? how would the coming generations cope with the age of complete automation? would they lose the ability – that we still have – to use a pen? to cook? to do a simple calculation? to fly a kite? I – honestly – fear that with this rate of descent of human skills, one day human beings will not even be able to walk!