Having developed an interest lately in all things architecture related, I came across a website called ‘Singularity University’ which is a non-profit organization funded by big names such as Google and Autodesk, whose stated mission is “to assemble, educate and inspire a cadre of leaders who strive to understand and facilitate the development of exponentially advancing technologies in order to address humanity’s grand challenges.” ‘Technological singularity’ an idea of rapid and inevitable technology progresses. Rapid rates of technological capacity could introduce new ‘intelligent’ technologies, leading to an ‘intelligence explosion’ where sudden, exponential growth generates paradigmatic and qualitative changes in the the human condition. Some have called this transhumanism. As this organization clearly sees technology as the answer to all our problems, they featured a presentation from a company called Acasa, which is developing machines for building houses with the minimum of human labour and time using a process called ‘contour crafting’, the 3D printing of housing. The entire process of house building the envelope and skeleton of a house can be automated, with the possibility of other automatic systems that can furnish, construct and install electrical and plumbing networks throughout.
Here’s a a computer generated simulation of the process of construction:
Obviously, the idea is being sold on the basis of a humanitarian imperative, as indicated through the initial video I watched on the Singularity University site. Natural disasters and urban sprawl means that over a billion people live in dwellings with little or no resources such as running water and electricity. Most of these are not built to a sufficient quality to resist storms, earthquakes and other such dangers that could be detrimental to safety. By building houses in one day with minimal labour and waste, many more people can be house before and after a disaster has occurred.
However, I’m sure that the incentive for developing such building technologies go beyond their altruistic applications towards more profitable applications. For instance, even though the construction industry is known for it’s employment of immigrant labour to keep costs to a minimum, exploitative practises are rife (see this article HERE for a case study of Dubai’s skyscrapers built with the sweat of cheap labourers). If contour crafting and it’s other sister technologies develop to the stage of industry wide take up, it will mean a massive de-skilling of labour from the activities of construction, but a re-skilling of labour away from the craft of building towards the maintenance of the building machines and the maintenance of the reserves needed for assemblage. However, the ratio of re-skilled to de-skilled will be dramatically unbalanced, where the number of re-skilled has shrunk and where a division of labour can be applied at the level of re-skilling to eliminate the need for over-skilled labourers. The prospect of automation reaching the construction industry is both exciting and bleak, yet this relation to dwelling, building and labour needs to thought through.
I was going to write some more but must get some sleep. I’ll be away in London in the next few days for Marxism 2010, so I’ll just say I intend to write a bit about automation, de-skilling and ‘dwelling’ (gotta throw in a bit of Heidegger here and there) when I get back next week.