07 Feb AI in property – Nigel Dalton
Australia is just starting to get its first taste of consumer artificial intelligence. What role will AI play in how we buy and sell property. We discuss that with Nigel Dalton, REA Group Chief Inventor
Kevin: You only need to have seen Star Wars, The Matrix, Westworld, or have grown up watching The Jetsons to know what artificial intelligence – or, as it’s sometimes called, AI – is all about. The latest Black Mirror series on Netflix even grapples with voice and AI technology, giving us a scarily realistic glimpse of what society could be like in as little as five years’ time.
So, where’s all this going? Where is it headed? How is it going to impact buyers and sellers of real estate? Joining me to talk about this is Nigel Dalton who is RealEstate.com.au REA’s Group Chief Inventor.
Nigel, that’s a pretty awesome term, Chief Inventor.
Nigel: It’s an important term. I have the best job in Australia, that’s for sure. But what we’ve come to realize is that innovation is one thing. That’s understanding customer needs and meeting them. You need to do that on a daily basis to survive today. That’s what most of the people at realestate.com.au do. A few of us work on pure invention: what’s coming in two to five years?
All we tap into is an amazing antipodean Australian and Kiwi spirit of being able to solve problems with stuff. Can we bring AI to bear on some of the problems in real estate? I hope so. We work on virtual reality and artificial intelligence, those kinds of things, and thinking two to five years out.
Kevin: My first experience with virtual reality was actually at REA in Melbourne, I think it was. We went to have a tour of the facility there, and we were given some 3D glasses. I went on a rollercoaster. That was my first experience in virtual reality. It was quite scary, I thought.
Nigel: You were a pioneer, because those games were the entry point to that. We talk about these future technologies impacting three things: time, trust, and transparency. What we think virtual reality is good for is saving people time. It’s the one thing you can’t make more of, and it’s an incredible gift you can give to your customers in real estate.
You’re experienced in that industry. There’s a lot of time wasted. You take a simple thing like a rental open for inspection. We had 200 people turn up to one of those in Sydney late last year, and there were 199 dissatisfied people who lost two hours of their day, probably one hour parking in Sydney, knowing how tough that is nowadays. That’s 400 hours of human time wasted.
If we can get some of that back for people, whether they’re agents or consumers, we know that’s appreciated. So, that’s where we point our technology.
Kevin: It’s interesting to hear you say that, Nigel. We’ve become – I guess because of the Internet and things like Google – so intolerant of wasting time. We even ask Google Home “What’s the temperature in Washington? What’s the time here? Or what open homes there are this week?” and we want an instant answer.
Nigel: Do you know, Australians are among the most impatient people in the world. I saw a study that Uber had done as to which nation was prepared to wait the longest for their Uber before they cancelled or found another opportunity.
What do you reckon is the time an Australian is prepared to wait for an Uber?
Kevin: I had an Uber experience recently and I waited ten minutes and then cancelled.
Nigel: Well, ten minutes, you’re on the 99th percentile of tolerance, because two minutes is the average Australian.
Kevin: Oh, wow.
Nigel: Now, I don’t know about you, I grew up in rural New Zealand, and when you go to a party in a small town, you’d wait two and a half hours for a taxi.
Kevin: The technology now is you order an Uber… We’re talking about Uber, but you can do it with pizza as well, and you can see where your pizza is, where the delivery is.
Nigel: And this is really smart use of technology. Uber and Dominos are both pioneers in the world of artificial intelligence, of using mathematical algorithms in a way that gives us more time. And what it is with the pizza thing is transparency.
How good do you feel knowing that that pizza is only two streets away?
Kevin: Yes, well, how frustrating is it when you see them make a wrong turn? Which has happened.
Nigel: I know. And we’re a generation that’s now used to that level of transparency, and we expect it in every single transaction we do.
Kevin: Talking about that, how is voice technology going to be integrated into the property industry? What are we going to see in the future?
Nigel: I’m old enough to remember back ten years ago when these crazy phones came out with glass screens you had to touch, and we all sat around going “That’s never going to work. It’s going to get dirty, and nobody wants to touch their screen. They want a keyboard and buttons.” Well, that changed the world. We’re so used to touchscreens. You see children in cafés trying to touch the screen on a newspaper and expand the picture out. It doesn’t work.
And now we’re in the world of voice. We will remember 2018 as the year we started not touching but talking to our devices.
Nigel: You’re at the cutting edge; you have a Google Home at home. Amazon Alexa is about to hit the market with a real bang because Australians love shopping online, and Amazon Alexa is absolutely made for that.
Yes, we’ll get used to talking to our devices, and we’ll talk to everything. You’ll talk to your car, you’ll talk to your phone, you’ll talk to your glasses. You’ll certainly talk to that thing about getting a decent recipe for cooking that roast leg of lamb for Australia Day.
Kevin: But how is it going to relate to real estate?
Nigel: Very simple. In real estate, we have those hard questions that everyone wants to know. “Who’s the best real estate agent in New Farm?” And we’ll apply both artificial intelligence in behind and the voice technology on the front, because people are going to want to verbalize that conversation, not type that into Google; that’s going to be too long. You’re going to be in the car, you’ll have these devices that’ll be portable.
We sat down with our initial launch to think “Well, it has to be useful in some way.” And the technology is early days. It’s mostly about the talking and giving instructions; it’s less about intelligent conversation, which is still a year or two away. That’s developing rapidly. That artificial intelligence is still expensive, and you won’t get it on your kitchen table for $75.
But in a year, watch this space. It’ll be way more conversational, and you will be able to ask those questions that everyone has that our research shows. “Is there a good property that I can rent with decent air conditioning for the summer in Brisbane?” I’ll bet you that’s a hot topic. And we will verbalize that, not type it.
Kevin: Nigel, how long will it be before we’ll be able to bring up REA on the computer and talk to you with voice technology, without using the keyboard?
Nigel: We certainly have areas of that. We’ll have that in the next year. And where we emphasize our energy is understanding “What are those underlying needs?” The thing that’s driving voice technology is our car. I don’t know if you use things like Siri or OK Google. Alexa is not in the car.
Kevin: Yes, we do.
Nigel: It’s a safety thing. And you have a generation of kids in the back seat watching you do that, and they understand that to be a normal thing to do. So, the generations are the one to watch. Get one, watch your kids use it, and realize they’re not perturbed at all by it not working.
Kevin: No, not at all.
Nigel: I showed it to my dad over Christmas back in New Zealand. He’s 84 years old and very wary of that technology. He doesn’t want to be rude to it. I saw a lovely study last year of who says please and thank you to artificial intelligence devices.
Kevin: Well, you only have to say “Thank you” to Google Home and she’ll come back and respond.
Nigel: And there was much concern how we were giving kids terrible lessons in manners by ordering these devices around. Everyone has this tone of voice for talking to their Google. You don’t need it. It’ll understand a Kiwi accent like mine talking at this speed. And the incredible advance that’s been delivered to us in these consumer devices is voice recognition and processing that information into a meaningful inquiry.
Kevin: Nigel, thank you for spending some time with us. It’s a fascinating area, and I want to get you back on the show to talk more about it, but we’re going to watch it unfold. My guest has been Nigel Dalton who is REA Group’s Chief Inventor.
Thank you for your time, Nigel.
Nigel: My pleasure. Keep pioneering.