Why Isn’t the Housing Industry More Innovative?
I am first to admit that I do not have practical knowledge and in-depth research on this topic, but I will, however, attempt the contribution from the research we have conducted at Peniel Impact on the subject of innovation.
Baring in mind of course that we are to be rooted in first principles thinking in these discussions, one has to first understand the interplay between innovation and technology and how we shall use these terms interchangeably as they mean the same thing to us.
“Technological change refers to alterations in methods of doing things while innovation is mainly about coming up with and implementing new viable ideas and may include improving on the already existing thoughts” according to researchgate. So we shall address both approaches to advancing our civilisation.
- The Global Innovation Watertable
Let’s dive in! I would first like to paint a picture of what has happened regarding innovation over the last 40-60 years, at least in the eyes of Peter Thiel in his speech developing the developed world delivered at Credit Suisse in 2013.
“There is a future that we envisioned in the 1960s, that future has not quite lived up to what the people expected, one could argue”. And maybe only until recently, say the last 10 years has our utopia been rekindled again, this part of the comment is mine.
He continues "If we are about to look outside of the computer, it’s actually been pretty much disappointing since the late 1960s almost everywhere. The utopian thinking people had about energy in terms of nuclear power, or electricity that would be ‘too cheap to meter’ in the words of Eisenhower in his “atoms too cheap speech of 1963” have not been realised.
And also in the last few decades, the drive for cleantech in Silicon Valley was in many ways quite disappointing until recently. Food technology increased in the 60s and 70s with the Green Revolution only to decelerate again.
In the biomedical area, we are still seeing a steady expansion in lifespans that is going up by about 2.5 years a decade in the most advanced nations but there is a big leg in these things. Because of this and a whole host of other shortcomings, the failure in all these domains has resulted in radically reduced expectations. We are not literally moving faster in travel speed, and we have decelerated with the decommissioning of the concord in 2003, and at least in the US extremely low tech airport security systems have taken travel speed back to like 1960.
Now the one extra-ordinary exception to this has been the ongoing computer revolution, which in the last 40 years has continued. It has gone from the semi-conductor phases, through personal computers, internet, web 2.0, smartphones, and that has certainly been the driver of continued gains and technological progress in the last 40 years".
With that being said I hope to highlight a point that not only has innovation been scarce in housing, but indeed throughout our civilization as a whole. And it has only been through these advances that we are only recently witnessing accelerated innovation across the board.
- Advances In Computing As A Driver
While studying the exponential advances in computing I could not help but notice the following that all our current innovations that is: AI, Computational Power, Blockchain, IoT, AR/VR, Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Additive Manufacturing, Drone and Robotics, Satellite Imagery, Geospatial, Networks, Battery Technology, Autonomous Cars, Hyperloop, Tunneling by The Boring Company could not have accelerated had it not been for the Moore’s Law. My assumption is that maybe we had to organise knowledge (information) before we innovate in all the other areas. Evidence is, we now have 3D printed housing, AI-enabled property development with Deepbocks, we have Avvir using laser scans (AR) and AI to minimise waste in construction, we have VR meetings for Architects Engineers and Contractors by InsiteVR and a host of other innovations all thanks to the Moore’s Law.
- Other Factors Driving Current Innovation Trends
Climate change. A lot of climate mitigation initiatives have come onto the mainstream only in the last 10 years, with the Paris Agreement only adopted by consensus on 12 December 2015.
Sustainable Development Goals. The Millenium Development Goals were established in 2000 and only iterated into SDG’s in 2015, which would then include sustainable cities and communities (housing).
Rapid Urbanisation. According to “Our World in Data” in 1960 only 1 billion of the population was urbanised compared to 4 billion today. My opinion is that urbanisation grew faster than our ability to innovate first in computing and eventually other fields.
I am compelled to also believe that our inability to innovate can be attributed to a lack of leadership. And that the minimal innovation there has been in the field, has primarily been absorbed by higher net-worth sectors of the society and was not enough to enter the 6D’s of exponential growth.