Happy goldfish bowl everybody!

This has been on my mind for some time. There’s two strands of thought here…firstly…

A change of key

Firstly I think there’s a chord change in the way that BIM is being talked about now. Much more emphasis on what we actually have to do, how to make it work, and how to change the industry. It’s more practical, down to earth. As a recent example I was privileged to hear James Daniel of Willmott Dixon present last week at The B1M meeting in London. His approach was low key, no fuss, just do it, no hype – an absolutely excellent demonstration. James blew away all the mystique and fog that clouds getting BIM into the industry and demonstrated with no fuss how it actually works on the ground.

I expect and hope that we will see a lot more of this approach over this year. The pace is picking up, and BIM stuff s becoming more grounded – people are getting to grips with the “how questions”.

No more silos and tribes

However the second strand in my line of thought is more to do with the implications of where this is heading. The penny is beginning to drop on the way BIM affects how we work, particularly in terms of collaboration and openness of information. For those that want to work in this way – no problem, it’s like Christmas and getting what you’ve always wanted – for all of us who have dreamed of better team-working, less adversarial relationships and more collaboration and integration. For those that like to play their cards more secretively, they’re heading for a big shock.

Even this though is the thin end of the wedge as they say…

Let’s take an overview of the digital age in which we now live.

The rise of Big Data and the Internet of Things

People that seem to think this BIM thing is all new forget that BIM style working as a technology is decades old – its just that the built environment industry is finally going digital, even if you can hear the cogs creaking to get there sometimes! But  beyond the small realm of our industry our lives are now founded on a digital fabric, and have been for many years.

Just think: internet, web, email, mobile phones, texts, messaging, Electronic Point of Sale tech, debit/credit cards, credit ratings, public and private personal databases, Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter and so on. Our digital footprints are already huge and growing exponentially. And faceless people and organisations use their Big Data bots to make decisions about us, whether thats what they think we’re going to spend or buy, and how to target those offers, or vouchers, or whether we can have a loan or some credit.

But then just begin to join all this up.

The Internet of  Things / The Internet of Everything

Richard Saxon talks about the Internet of Things ( his report, Growth Through BIM – awesome!) – there’s a whole feature about IOT  in this month’s Wired magazine. BIM technologies enable all sorts of objects to exchange information to make our lives easier and safer. Your fridge will “talk” to the supermarket. Your smart watch will monitor your health and “talk” to to your doctor. Billions of sensors will be pushing data onto the web to enable our lives to be easier, finding parking spaces, monitoring health, and environmental levels, watching over your house while you’re away, helping you avoid the traffic or tube delays on the way to work and so on. Imagine everything connected providing a personalised stream of data, interacting with all aspects of our lives.

I was at a Smart Cities conference held by BSI a few weeks ago. Using Smart metering “they”can tell when you’ve opened the fridge door, or boiled the kettle. From our buying patterns “they”can tell our lifestyle choices, even how we’re feeling or state of health.

This is all well and good – or is it? To some extent this is happening now but we will have smart buildings, that will join up to form smart cities and beyond. And we will be living in a goldfish bowl of information about all sorts things including us, our history, and our daily lives.

Jaron Lanier in his book Who owns the future? explores the ethics, morality and sustainability of the Big Data environment. There is a lot to think about here. And how this will affect our economic and financial structures. If you doubt this, then just think how digital changed the way the music industry works.

Whilst our ability to use and manipulate masses of information opens up all sorts of possibilities, our human-ness always brings  both good and bad along with it. The continuing increase in processing power  enables Big Data machines to process more and more information about us, collected from any point where we interact with a digital environment.

In our best moments of creativity and generosity of spirit, all this stuff can be used for the greater good and  to solve some of the issues that have beset our world for a very long time. However there will always be those who seek to profit in the short term, make a fast buck, and manipulate this environment to their own ends. The power of the greater good needs to win out here, otherwise we will be stuck with some apocalyptic nightmare, that seems to be quite popular in the film industry at the moment. (This could be the rise of Skynet as in Terminator, the Zombie apocalypse, many variations here, or some kind of vampire/werewolf pandemic leading to extinction. I haven’t touched on the alien invasion or whether they walk among us – everyone knows they do anyway, don’t they?)

An aspect of the current BIM movement for change (yes! – thats what it is!), is the way that the industry is talking, and exchanging ideas and information across silos, tribes and vested interests. It is so refreshing, and we mustn’t lose this as we move forward. This is changing our culture for the better, and breaking down barriers.

Our goldfish bowl will come at a price. We are hurtling now towards a new digital age which will be beyond anything even the sci-fi guys can think of – truth may well indeed be stranger than fiction. Smart teams, smart projects, smart cities, smart nations – sure thing.

Whether we will be a “smarter” humanity, remains to be seen! As someone once said, “with great power, comes great responsibility”. We have at our finger tips world changing power, virtual can become reality. Aside from getting to grips with process and technology, we need to learn how to use this responsibly.

Happy goldfish bowl everybody!



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