My vision of the future - Araceli Camargo

Future Visions is the series that explores the surreal world of tomorrow through the finest minds of today. In this instalment we hear from Araceli Camargo, who has some bold thoughts on the future of buildings and the impact of artificial intelligence on society...

Meet our expert, Araceli Camargo. Araceli is a cognitive neuroscientist, with a specialisation on perception. She is the co-founder of THECUBE London and INPUT Lofts in NYC, which are co-working spaces. As a science communicator she has worked with companies like Lloyds TSB, NHS, Bumpass and Parr, Ultra Fabrics, and Communicator Group.

Araceli recently co-founded a neuroscience lab for the built environment in partnership with UCL called The Centric Lab. The lab specialises in understanding how people experience the physical and social world around them, which in turn helps create better user experience of buildings and cities. 

Key insights from Araceli’s vision of the future

  • Advances in artificial intelligence could result in a cultural renaissance, provided the right education support is provided to enable the transition.
  • Despite increases in remote working we will not see the death of the workplace, instead it will be redesigned to help businesses address their most important issues in person.
  • Cognitive flexibility will become a highly regarded skill and holds the key to problem solving.

This is my vision of the workplace in 20 years’ time...

It’s hard to say what the future of work will look like, as at the moment it looks like it can go two ways.

If artificial intelligence (AI) takes off, humans will no longer do the work of machines, such as picking up rubbish, data entry, accounting and so on. This could free us up to have a new type of renaissance and become more philosophical, as we will have the time.

This, in turn, could lead to innovations that we cannot even currently imagine, from cures to complex diseases to new forms for language and culture.

On the other hand, if we do not provide the right educational support for this transition, there will be higher levels of unemployment and mental health issues as a result. The mental health issue could stem from the lack of purpose for those who are not able to find jobs or their place in this new society. In short, we could lose a huge chunk of the population - something we may end up paying quite a high price for both economically and socially.

Buildings for people

Through my work at both THECUBE and now The Centric Lab - we have looked at how people interact and are affected by the built environment. Starting with THECUBE in 2009, we were one of the first to pioneer a new way of working, giving people more than just an office or a desk. Now with the lab, we are studying how people experience space to create more purpose and human centric buildings and cities. In other words we hope to enrich the human experience of cities and buildings.

My vision of the future - Dr James Bellini

One of our advisors for the lab, Dr. Nick Tyler, said to us: "cities are not buildings, they are people," therefore the idea of making buildings better is not just about making them more technologically advanced or sentient, it is about making them more humane.

Listen to episode one of the Future Visions podcast - next week's episode will feature the visions of Araceli. Subscribe on iTunes.

As it stands buildings and cities make us sick and in turn unproductive, we want to change that. After all, innovation, invention and economy all happen inside our buildings, therefore we should aim to understand them more from a human and scientific perspective.

37 per cent of global workforce is currently mobile, but there is no indication that it will reach an amount where a place of work is obsolete. Especially, when you see that companies of the future like Google, Tesla and NASA are trying to solve more complex problems - they need to do this in person and with colleagues. However, this means innovating the design and expectation of workspaces, we cannot do this type of high-level work using 20th century workspace design.

Healthier buildings mean healthier people

We see buildings as being a crucial player in innovation, whether it is your basement or an office, most of our work, ideas and collaborations happen within buildings. Therefore, understanding how buildings affect us is a crucial step in the innovation cycle.

For instance, if a building has poor air quality, lighting or sound it can start to have an impact on your sleep cycles, which in turn will affect your mental and physical wellbeing. Science now has a robust body of research indicating that cognitive performance is lowered if we are stressed or anxious. Therefore a healthy building will mean healthier people - which means better performance.

Of course, a person’s life is more complex than the building they occupy, however given that we spend 80 per cent of our time inside them, they are crucial to wellbeing and innovation.

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Neuroscience and the future of problem solving

We have been teaching people about neuroscience at THECUBE for the last three years and one of the topics has been cognitive flexibility, which we see as a key skill. Cognitive flexibility allows us to switch between thinking about two different concepts or think about multiple concepts at once.

Even the World Economic Forum mentioned it as one of their top skills to start fostering. There is an increase of complexity, or at least there is a realisation of complexity. We have been taught to solve problems in a linear format, cause and effect for example, rather than looking at environments and systems. In other words, looking at the problem from various angles and in its full environment.

When we are facing problems like the NHS, economic inequality, or social unrest, we need better cognitive tools - we need to be able to be cognitively flexible. This is the reason we feel that it is important to understand neuroscience in the context of problem solving, because the more we learn about how we learn and think, the more informed we will be to engage with different cognitive processes. In short, cognitive flexibility can be used for complex problem solving especially when established knowledge and experience alone cannot solve it.

How to prepare yourself for change…

  1. Educate yourself on coding or machine learning.
  2. Look at how science and technology will affect the industry you are going into.
  3. Start to look at your product or service in a more human centric manner.

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