Tag Archives: automation

Raising the efficiency of the housing market

Empty housing is wasteful from society’s point of view. Both landlords and renters would benefit from finding a suitable counterparty to contract with faster. There are already online systems for listing housing for rent and sale, and also notice boards for people seeking housing. This is a good start, but a predictive system would be better. Given enough data, computers could forecast who is a good tenant or landlord and which apartment or house suits a given person’s preferences. Less searching would be needed by all involved.

Rental agencies already have a tenant database where they exchange references for renters. A similar online system should be created for landlords and housing (distinguishing the two). Also, the rental agency or real estate bureau should be rated separately from the people working in it, otherwise bad agents may move from one employer to another and escape their reputation. A bad notoriety may even motivate a person to change their name. For good agents, the loss of a reputation not tied to their person may make it difficult to change jobs.

Instead of chancing on complaints or praise in forums, a renter could see a summary rating of many rental agencies, agents and buildings in one place. The building database should include objective measures like the distance of a building to the city centre and the nearest supermarket, the yearly electricity and heating bills, the outdoors noise level in decibels, some average air pollution measure, school catchment areas, floor plan and area, etc. This saves labour for prospective tenants, so each of them does not have to search for the same data from various sources. Information entered by past renters is hopefully objective and protects novice tenants like students from being misled by advertisements like “five minute drive to the city centre” (only at 3 am when the roads are empty, in a Formula 1 car), “short walk to the supermarket” (short compared to the Shackleton Solo expedition), “safe neighbourhood” (compared to a war zone), “quiet” (relative to a rock concert), “spacious” (roomier than a shoebox), “close to nature” (insects and rodents inside). Distances to various landmarks could be automatically downloaded from Google Maps when the building address is known. Crime, pollution and traffic density statistics could similarly be autocompleted.

Renters should be able to select the measures they consider important in the data and get a ranking of the housing on offer according to these. Once someone has rated several apartments, the system could potentially predict the housing that would please that person.

Triangulating translations

If a text has already been translated to a couple of languages with high quality, then it may be possible to improve the quality of machine translation to another language by translating separately from each original language and averaging in some sense. I do not know whether a program currently exists that is able to take into account multiple starting languages – Google Translate and other online automatic translation services I have seen only use one. Several different translations should contain more information than one, so by comparing them, some errors may be eliminated. At least inconsistencies can be discovered by computer and then checked by a human, saving labour.

Automating Facebook conversations

Facebook makes it easy to remember people’s birthdays, it just displays an automatic reminder. Other calendar programs like Outlook can also be made to do that. Every time someone receives a reminder of an acquaintance’s birthday, they send a birthday greeting – it is almost automatic. So why not make it fully automatic by writing a program to check Facebook every day and send a happy birthday message to anyone whose birthday is on that day?

The person receiving a birthday greeting usually replies with a thank-you note, which is also a repetitive action on a computer and can therefore be automated. Continuing this way, Facebook conversations can be made fully automatic without any human input whatsoever, apart from the initial writing of programs. But Facebook accounts could come with these programs built in, so anyone creating an account will automatically start participating in these computerized conversations. This takes the idea of virtual friendships to its logical limit.

The same virtual conversations can be created using other email and calendar programs – if the calendar displays someone’s birthday, an automatic email is sent with a greeting, and the recipient’s email program sends an automated reply.