The Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning behind OfficeBlocks

In conversation with Dr. Yusuf Jafry

Dr. Yusuf Jafry is the Director of OfficeBlocks and Managing Director of Risk Integrated. He has a PhD in aerospace engineering and applies that rigorous qualitative approach to bring order and insights to the complex world of commercial real estate.

Person taking picture of people leisuring in a shopping mall atrium

“Never do twice what you can teach a machine to do once”

Why did you decide to apply Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) to commercial real estate (CRE)?
Until now, gaining insights into commercial properties has been challenging – there is very little transparency in the sector and accessing data and insights when making CRE deals can be complex and convoluted.

By applying the AI and ML models that we had been developing over the past few years to in-depth CRE data, we have been able to develop a first-of-its-kind property technology that puts actionable data into your hands.


What are the benefits of applying this technology to commercial property data?
The AI and ML algorithms mean that OfficeBlocks is able to process millions of data points in minutes – giving you access to reliable real estate insights across all major cities in Asia Pacific, and speeding up deal flow.

The technology means that rather than needing to do in-person site visits or analyse dense spreadsheets, you can now access important CRE data at the touch of a button—from the comfort of your home or office.

Other benefits include contrasting and comparing commercial property, and benchmarking existing assets.


How do the AI and ML algorithms work?
Of the AI and ML algorithms in use today, I believe the most powerful are Deep Neural Networks. This often makes the news—for example, Deep Neural Networks are the secret to Deep Mind’s success in beating humans at the game of Go. These algorithms are also behind the growing positive outcomes of using medical imaging for cancer classifications.

OfficeBlocks also makes extensive use of Deep Neural Networks, to recognise building attributes (including the building age, grade and size) from photographs. This technique is inspired by that used in the medical sciences.

In fact, in a recent exercise to demonstrate the power of OfficeBlocks’ algorithms, we tested to see if the technology could distinguish COVID-19 from both healthy lungs and other forms of pneumonia, based on crowd-sourced X-ray images. What’s remarkable is that our classifiers could distinguish COVID-19 X-rays to higher than a 90% accuracy – purely by interpreting image pixels!


The Risk Intelligence Platform uses risk modelling to provide insights. Could you tell us more about this?
For the past two decades, Risk Integrated has been building sophisticated risk models to enable us to provide financial risk measurement systems and consulting to banks, investors, and government departments.

In short, risk modelling takes in all the information that a human couldn’t possibly contemplate, and analyses it in a way that provides important insights.

If we look specifically at CRE deals, typically there is more than one investor, multiple banks and many other layers of complexity. So how can you understand if a deal could be advantageous for you as an investor? Our Risk Intelligence Platform has been designed specifically to counter this challenge by analysing all the variables involved in a CRE transaction—from structural details of loans and leases across multiple assets, counterparties and currencies – to uncover the commercial feasibility of a deal.

OfficeBlocks uses the famed Monte Carlo analysis of complex cash flow models to give you a full picture of risk, projecting up to 20 years into the future.


Could OfficeBlocks become a one-stop shop for commercial real estate?
I believe so! Brokering a CRE deal today is incredibly complex and I strongly believe that AI has the power to bring together all of the different components of the deal to give information and recommendations for an easier, more efficient process. For example, the tool could find the best lender for you, or recommend legal firms based on the specific intricacies of the deal at hand.

There really is no limit to how AI and ML could continue to revolutionise the CRE sector.


What other technologies could be applied to OfficeBlocks in the future?
In the future, we envision including augmented reality and virtual reality in the OfficeBlocks products to create a more immersive experience within the mobile app.

Imagine walking down a street and wanting to know more about the real estate around you. Using the OfficeBlocks mobile app, you could hold your phone up and view augmented reality buildings and key rental insights superimposed onto the actual buildings.

This is one of many future developments to the product that we are considering.

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