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Brave New World - Embracing AI for Sustainable and Inclusive Placemaking

In the second of our blogs on artificial intelligence and its potential for place, Rupert Lorraine, Director of The Arts Institute at the University of Plymouth, discusses how placemakers can embrace artificial intelligence. 

The frequency illusion - a human cognitive bias which increases our tendency to notice more often the things we mentally focus on - is the phenomenon which leads us to repeatedly encounter the red car we’ve been contemplating purchasing, at every street corner, and in every magazine. It is due to this quirk of psychology that I can scarcely scroll through my socials, or overhear a passing conversation, without encountering the polarising topic of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

For Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning, and Transport, understanding AI's evolution and its implications is now not just a matter of curiosity, but a professional necessity in navigating the future of sustainable urban development, community engagement and innovative public services. 

As somebody coming from the perspective of AI enthusiast, I am simultaneously intrigued and enthralled to be living through one of the most remarkable periods in human history. A moment where advanced AI, once the subject of speculation, is now a tangible part of our daily lives, influencing how we access information and entertainment and as well as the ways in which we work, including how we conceive of designing, managing, administering, and evaluating the ‘places’ we care for, and engaging with the people who live, work, study and play there too.

The current blistering pace of development in AI represents a sudden and radical shift, surprising even those who have spent a lifetime studying the field. The diverse emotional reactions to AI range from techno-optimism and excitement at new potentials for storytelling, productivity, and engagement to fear and apprehension in the face of growing uncertainty and an increasingly complex web of challenging ethical dilemmas, disruptive labour market impacts, and concerns around the reliability of the systems we are becoming increasingly dependent upon. 

There’s no doubt that the risk of deepfakes, misinformation, and algorithmic biases which might perpetuate or amplify social prejudices, require our vigilant attention, especially where these technologies intersect with Place management. In community engagement, where the human touch in decision-making and empathy are paramount, we must be vigilant in ensuring AI aids, rather than undermines, these human-centric values. But by facing these challenges head-on and steering AI's deployment responsibly, we can ensure that its integration into our societal fabric not only fuels productivity and innovation but also upholds the greater good. 

My personal view is that AI systems are neither inherently ‘good’ nor ‘bad’ and viewing the pros and cons of AI as a dichotomy, I think largely springs from a lack of awareness and deep understanding of what these systems really are, how they function, and how they can be used in both work and personal contexts. 

General-purpose AI tools like ChatGPT (the name stemming from the Generative Pre-trained Transformer architecture upon which it is built) are extraordinarily powerful, but by their very nature can be hard for us to understand and use, because they can do nearly anything. I believe that GPT-4 and other forms of generative AI are best thought of as powerful allies - tools for augmenting and amplifying our human potential and offering fresh perspectives on problem-solving. 

Liberating Cognition

AI, when effectively harnessed, can preserve our cognitive resources for the more intricate and engaging aspects of our roles, emphasising the irreplaceable nature of the human touch and the intrinsic value of our interpersonal skills. Rather than taking over, AI has the potential to free us from the tedious and mundane aspects of our jobs, allowing us to focus on asking the right questions, engaging in meaningful dialogue, and building authentic relationships, enabling us to concentrate on what we do best and to find more joy and fulfilment in our working lives. In the context of urban development, this could mean using AI to automate routine tasks, break the ground in developing new policies (or improving existing ones), planning workshops, and generating insightful reports and data analytics, freeing up time for more strategic endeavours and community-focused initiatives.

AI Augmented Leadership 

Good leaders have empathy, they introspect, and they deploy different forms of intelligence (including their emotional and political intelligence) to inspire others to change the world around them. By using AI, leaders can significantly strengthen positive attributes, as well as freeing up time and energy for deeper thinking and forging stronger connections with their teams during times of hardship and disruption. AI tools can assist Place leaders by equipping them with a richer understanding of the environments they oversee; providing insights into complex urban trends and dynamics, identifying sustainable practices, and offering tools for better communication and engagement, enhancing their ability to build trust, and foster collaboration and consensus among diverse stakeholders. 

These capabilities are crucial in navigating the intricacies of urban development, where harmonising economic, environmental, and social goals is key. And this can empower leaders to drive meaningful change in shaping resilient, inclusive, and vibrant communities. 

AI Enhanced Creativity

The emergence of generative AI tools challenges our perception of creativity as an exclusively human trait. Contemporary AI systems, whilst trained on extensive human creative outputs, are starting to display their own emergent behaviours, prompting us to reconsider the essence of ideation, innovation, and emotional resonance, and opening new pathways for co-creation between humans and machines. Imagine leveraging AI to devise innovative approaches to urban planning, waste management, and transportation that prioritise social value, or identifying untapped areas for collaboration, both within teams and with the community, infusing creativity into the reimagining and design of public spaces, embedding world-class practices in Equality, Diversity and Inclusion into every aspect of our work, whilst ensuring that our implementation of AI maintains public trust and promotes equitable access. 

This not only fosters a more dynamic approach to problem-solving but also ensures that solutions are both inclusive and forward-thinking. The vast understanding of human creativity and psychology embedded within AI models, coupled with their near limitless power to generate new creative content, has the potential to revolutionise development and planning, transcending traditional methods, and encouraging us to reimagine how we conceive and implement creative solutions in urban spaces, thereby enriching the quality of life and sustainability of our communities.

There is no question that AI will radically transform our world, reshaping our lives and workplaces in the years to come. As we consider the future trajectory of AI and its integration within Place, constructive dialogue, shared vision, and collaborative efforts within the ADEPT community will be vital. 

It’s important to remember that AI is neither inherently good nor bad; it is a tool, and its impact hinges on how we choose to wield it. I believe we should do so wisely, ethically, and with mindful consideration. It's crucial that we inspire one another to approach AI with curiosity and openness, rather than apprehension, to truly harness its benefits.


Rupert Lorraine: Director of The Arts Institute, Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Business at the University of Plymouth

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Image credit - Rupert Lorraine DALL·E

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