Smart Machines: AI technology's impact on Florida's business sectors
AI hasn't quite replaced humans, but the technology is making business better
Real Estate Modeling
Designer: Olivia Ramos (Deepblocks)
Product: Deepblocks, early property analysis software
Growing up in Cuba, where she lived until she was 10 years old, Olivia Ramos spent lots of time in the office where her mother worked as an architect. “At the time, they had no computers, so it was all a bunch of pencils and rulers, and I fell in love with all the little gadgets,” she recalls.
Two decades later, Ramos is perfecting her own gadget — a high-tech software application called Deepblocks that uses data and deep learning to streamline and automate the process of early property analysis. Developers using the software can zoom in to a specific parcel, set their building parameters — square footage, number of units, parking, etc. — and the program spits out a 3-D visual of the project and an analysis with a projected return on investment that takes into account everything from market demographics (such as rent-to-income ratios) to local zoning rules.
“Zoning data, the rules of the city, are usually 400- page PDFs and are really expensive to go through and understand,” says Ramos, who has a master’s degree in architecture from Columbia University and a master’s in real estate development from the University of Miami. “We developed models that understand that data and extract that data from those documents. You just select a piece of land, and it tells you what you can do.”
The software can shave considerable time off development planning. It took one customer a year to do 21 iterations of a particular parcel that Deepblocks can help do in a few hours, and users can do as many models as they want, Ramos says. It currently includes parcel data for more than 1,000 U.S. cities and zoning data for 30 cities.
The Miami startup has a staff of six, including CEO and founder Ramos, and has raised $2 million through two funding rounds. It’s raising $3 million in a third round. Real estate pros can buy a subscription to Deepblocks for $1,620 a month or $12,600 for a year. The software has seen a “big growth in adoption” amid the COVID-19 pandemic because people can’t travel as easily to visit potential markets, Ramos says.
The goal is for the software to make suggestions on opportunities in the market and determine the highest and best use of any property, Ramos says. When that happens, she believes Deepblocks will help tackle even bigger problems, such as a lack of affordable housing.
“It’s really, really hard to make an affordable housing project profitable, and it requires a lot of government help, so if we use the inefficiencies and understand what to build and how to build and where to build it, then that projects a lot of savings on the front end,” she says. “Every single penny you save in affordable housing in cost, it’s going to make that project more likely to happen.”
Designer: Holland & Knight /Joe Dewey
Product: Draft responses software
Joe Dewey, a financial services and real estate attorney and “innovation partner” at Holland & Knight, says his firm has built an AI system that can generate about a dozen draft responses to pleadings for cases in high-volume practice areas. While a human must still sign off on the final version of a document, the law firm has been able to shave about two to three hours off the process of preparing a pleading. “With 50 to 100 cases a month, that starts to add up,” he says.
Dewey sees bigger things on the AI horizon for the legal world — such as a deep-learning tool that could help an attorney draft a motion based on prior decisions issued by a particular judge, or an algorithm that could synthesize all existing case law on a topic and create a memorandum. “If you could get something that could do that at 70% to 80% accuracy, that would be a very valuable tool,” he says. “The technology will need to evolve, but I think that’s the direction we’re headed.”
The Miami lawyer is skeptical that any machine could rival the human brain in a broad way. “For the most part, the machine learning models are good at one task. It’s just a statistical model at the end of the day, and it applies the statistics to make a prediction about something,” Dewey says. “They’re very powerful with the tasks they’re trained to do, but very limited, usually to a very narrow task. Beyond that, they’re fairly dumb.”
An increasing number of companies are leveraging AI to automate more mundane business tasks.
- The Tampa Bay Rays and Rowdies use an AI-power contract management system called IntelAgree, created by the Tampa-based startup CoLabs, to streamline their contract process.
- A 4-year-old Miami company called Chirrp has developed a platform that harnesses IBM Watson’s conversation technology to create more “human-like” chatbots for businesses.
- Vinsa, a company that grew out of the AI-consulting firm Levatas in Palm Beach Gardens, uses its computer vision models along with robots created by Boston Dynamics to automate “labor-intensive” tasks such as reading and monitoring analog utility gauges at electric, oil and gas sites. Vinsa has also built computer vision models that can see whether workers on construction sites are wearing masks and complying with other safety requirements.
- Florida Atlantic University’s College of Engineering and Science is implementing AI-oriented degree programs, including a master of science with a major in AI (the first such degree in Florida), a multi-disciplinary master of science in data and analytics and a joint degree that funnels honors students into a master’s of science in data science.
- Researchers at FAU’s College of Engineering and Computer Science recently landed a five-year, $2.4-million grant from the National Science Foundation to train graduate students in data science technologies and applications.
- With a $1-million gift from Rubin and Cindy Gruber, FAU is building a 3,400-sq.-ft. artificial intelligence lab within its Wimberly Library.
When Ivan Garibay was invited to Washington, D.C., a few years ago to talk to lawmakers about artificial intelligence, many quizzed him about “the singularity” — a theoretical point in time when AI will surpass human intellect — and inquired about whether smart machines will be job killers.
Garibay, founding director of the University of Central Florida’s Complex Adaptive Systems Laboratory, told them the age of AI will be like other industrial revolutions. “Some types of jobs disappear, but it also brings new types of jobs,” he said. “A few years down the road, we probably won’t need Uber drivers or taxi drivers or truck drivers because AI’s getting better and better at guiding cars, but that doesn’t mean that many jobs won’t appear in that new AI economy.” As traditionally, retraining people with new skills, he says, will be key to weathering the disruption.
A 2019 report from the Brookings Institution suggests that the impacts of AI won’t be evenly felt. Those in “better-paid, white-collar occupations” are among the “most exposed” to AI, although the “most elite workers — such as CEOs — appear to be somewhat protected,” according to Brookings’ analysis. The report says that jobs involving “pattern-oriented or predictive work” may be “especially susceptible,” whereas low-paying “rote” jobs involving food preparation, health care and personal care may be less affected.
As for the notion of the singularity — “we’re very, very far away,” Garibay surmises. “That is something I don’t even see in generations, having true intelligent machines that could replace or be a threat to humankind. It’s almost like the Wizard of Oz. It’s always amazing when you see the results, but when you see behind the curtain, you realize what’s there is not as impressive. It’s just mathematics and fast computers. I don’t see it coming. Not in our lifetime at least.”
Read more in Florida Trend's February issue.
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