The increasing frequency and severity of pandemic and climate events represent new challenges to keeping buildings, particularly older buildings, safe for their inhabitants and visitors. The good news is that modern data-centric technology can help us to cost-effectively make a big difference, if we move beyond one-size-fits-all understanding of buildings, as we design, build, and manage them.
Transforming one-to-one “personalized” marketing AI technology into building safety
In the last three decades, we’ve seen a massive change in marketing. It used to be that “one size fits all” television advertisements sent to the entire country at a time were very expensive. In contrast, today, we can spend much less money on a simple Google, Facebook, or Twitter ad that only appears on the screen of people who are likely to want to purchase the product or service. Once a pipe dream, this “one-to-one” advertising model is now standard practice worldwide.
Under the hood, one-to-one advertising was made possible by big data—information gathered about you from many sources—and by artificial intelligence: computer software that analyzed that data to determine the best ad to show you.
However, this revolution in data and AI technology has not been, by and large, applied to the most impactful problems of our time, including Covid-19 and climate change. We see guidelines issues by federal and state authorities that have the same “one size fits all” character, reminiscent of television ads of the 1970s. Data about Covid-19 and climate is presented in summary statistics characterizing entire states or counties, and is often averaged out over long time periods, thereby losing its power.
We can be much more effective if we “drill down” inside these high-level statistics and guidelines. Much like the one-to-one advertising we see today, we can use big data and artificial intelligence to be much more effective.
Let’s consider buildings, in particular. How can we go beyond “one size fits all” thinking to make decisions specific to a particular restaurant, apartment building, sports arena, event center, casino, or university building? Can we use data and AI to ensure that it is safe, comfortable, and economical to operate, now and into the future?
Furthermore, given that bad decisions can be deadly in a world of climate change and pandemics data and AI can have a big impact.
Connected-up thinking about both climate and pandemic impacts on building health
Like the pandemic, climate change is an increasingly dangerous silent killer. A recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) shows that by the end of the 21st century, climate change could be the direct cause of more deaths per year than the current Covid-19 pandemic. Specifically Covid-19 was responsible for 23 deaths per 100,000 people globally during 2020, while deaths due to extreme temperatures may climb to 85 per 100,000 by the year 2100. This number is, indeed, greater than all deaths currently caused by infectious disease on the planet today.
We spend 90% of our time indoors, so it makes sense to ask, Is there anything we can do to the buildings in which we live to reduce the impact of climate change on humans? And while we’re at it, can we construct buildings that are as healthy as possible from other points of view, including helping to mitigate the impacts of another pandemic?
The answer is yes, especially for buildings in regions where the climate will cross a temperature threshold that makes them deadly. As the climate heats up, so will buildings. Making matters worse, the way that heat flows around buildings changes at higher temperatures. A structure that was designed to remain comfortable at consistent daily maximum temperatures around 80°F may develop pockets that reach and maintain temperatures well over 100°F if the outdoor maximum is closer to 90°F for several days in a row. Such temperatures can be a threat to the well-being or even the lives of frail or elderly occupants.
Multiplying the benefits of building health using data and AI
Remediating such situations with more powerful HVAC and ventilation solutions is an important part of the solution. But we can go further, using data and AI drive diverse decisions that are customized to a particular structure, and do so at minimal cost. And we are already part of the way there, because we can start with data already available in most Building Information Management (BIM) systems, which provides a starting point for AI and simulation analysis.
In the next post, I’ll explain how making decisions using summary statistics like an average value can be misleading, as a first step towards moving beyond one-size-fits-all thinking around climate and pandemics for buildings.