The second cycle of the NLA’s Built Environment Technology Expert Panel kicked off on October 31 with an engaging in-person meeting in The City Centre. While returning panel members shared their reflections on the previous year’s experience, new panel members brought fresh ideas and perspectives to the table, altogether enriching the discussion about the role that digital technology might play in shaping our capital’s future.
Barriers to adoption, the importance of metrics, and the opportunities for using digital technology in the context of community engagement emerged as recurring areas of interest, while issues associated with ownership structures and hardware implementation surfaced as new focal points demanding further exploration.
The latter two points are, of course, intricately connected, and both are key to enabling (or restricting) the digitalisation, and wider digital transformation, of the built environment sectors.
As our reliance on data and digital systems grows, so do the physical requirements that this technology relies on. We need data centres to house servers and cooling systems, cables transmitting 0s and 1s to run beneath our streets, and a myriad of devices to continuously capture, and report on, the state of places, systems, and services. Every component has an owner, and every owner has considerable capital and operating costs to consider and potentially recover, for example by charging users (G. Network) or through advertising (Google). In addition, there is a carbon cost associated with all this technology infrastructure, which makes the continuous expansion of data storage and exchange increasingly unecological.
It may be time to question to what extent a system which is primarily owned by private organisations can operate in the interest of public good, and to what extent the business models that currently dominate within the sector are compatible with public interests, planetary boundaries, and wider definitions of value.
We meet again on February 22nd to continue this conversation alongside our other focus areas.