The World Bank has started using blockchain technologies to track land administration and property rights as well as identity and access to ﬁnancial services, which are key drivers to ensuring that the poorest of the poor and marginalized groups can own property, pass on assets to children, and avoid corruption . According to the United Nations SDGs, by 2050, more than two-thirds of humanity—that’s more than 6.5 billion people—will live in urban areas. Currently, more than 828 million people are estimated to live in slums, generally in cities. In recent years, natural and manmade disasters as well as political instability have created some of the most high proﬁle challenges in the housing industry, contributing to the worldwide increase of people living in temporary shelters. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, more than 70.8 million people were displaced from their homes, with over half coming from Afghanistan, Syria, and South Sudan. Securing permanent housing can also be most challenging for speciﬁc groups of people, including those who are elderly, people with disabilities, indigenous populations, and women and children. Sufficient, safe shelter is closely linked to several other global grand challenges, including security, health, governance, prosperity, disaster resilience, and more.Exponential technologies can play a critical role in helping solve the shelter global grand challenge. At the most basic level, digitization of the architecture, construction, and real estate sectors allows increased efficiencies between building design, cost and bid estimates, project management, supply chain management, and equipment management; it also allows workers and customers to virtually visit sites. With increasing sophistication and the robotization of the construction industry, we are also seeing the ﬁrst pilots in 3D printed houses. In 2016, Beijing-based company HuaSheng Tengda made headlines by printing a 4,305-square- foot, two-story villa in 45 days that can withstand a magnitude 8.0 earthquake. In 2018, 3D Prinhuset (now COBOD), created Europe’s ﬁrst 3D printed house in Denmark. Perhaps most exciting is the work of ICON and New Story, a collaboration between a Texan technology company and a nonproﬁt with historic expertise in housing for the world’s most vulnerable populations. They released a demo of their 3D printed house at South by Southwest in 2018, claiming they could lower costs to $4,000 to $10,000 per house as well as build each house within 24 hours. Since then, the organizations have started building a 3D printed community for 400 people in El Salvador, which is expected to be completed in 2019. They are also working in the city of Austin to build affordable housing.
Entrepreneurs and organizations are also using exponential technologies to address the social and political challenges related to shelter.Miracle Messages, a nonproﬁt in the US founded by SU alumnus Kevin Adler, uses social media to connect homeless individuals experiencing mental health challenges to the family members who are searching for them. They also work to combat bias toward unhoused individuals. ReGen Villages, founded by SU Faculty JamesEhrlich, is addressing the shelter challenge by building tech-infused futuristic communities that generate income by selling excess energy, food, and water outside the village. A number of governments around the world are taking this one step further by designing futuristic communities—and even entire cities and economic zones, such as Masdar City and NEOM in the Middle East.
While many organizations are using the beneﬁts of exponential technologies to make traditional construction methods more efficient, others are using exponential technologies to disrupt housing and cities entirely. For example, Amy Kurzweil, illustrator of Danielle: Chronicles of a Superheroine written by Ray Kurzweil, articulated a future of moving ﬂuid cities with a vision of self-driving houses. Her self-driving tiny houses are smart and connected, and they include vertical gardens to provide food. Given that others are working on autonomous markets, restaurants, and offices, the future of shelter—and how we live in the future—may be the most surprising development of all.
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