What does artificial intelligence (AI) mean for construction and you? Stephen Hawking says AI could be the “worst event in the history of our civilisation” and believes we will perish from it. Anthropologists believe it will have profound implications for the human race. And your average large contractor thinks that the relationship between AI and its cousin, BIM, will serve up just the right tonic of innovation to save them a few quid one day – and perhaps get them out of a skills shortage fix. So while you’re waiting for the Pacman on your Amstrad to fire up, take a look at our BIM survey and Ike Ijeh’s take on the future of AI in construction. And see below for 10 things AI and BIM will or won’t do to your business.
1. First, this sweeping, fast-paced technology is probably not going to get your money back from failed specialist contractor Lakesmere after it went into administration last week. Hopefully AI will lead to fewer disputes but when they happen, you’ll need people – advisers, lawyers, accountants – not robots.
2. AI is already changing crucial aspects of construction – from drones inspecting sites to big data usage being monitored against a project plan. In future, AI’s influence is going to grow exponentially and those who drag their feet are going to be left behind. So don’t waste time resisting it – get used to it and be quick about it.
3. According to our BIM survey, Level 2 take-up is far from what it should be. After the initial surge of enthusiasm (urged on by government mandate), interest has plateaued and not everyone is persuaded of the benefits of BIM. There’s still a lot of work to do to persuade those who remain unconvinced that there is a business case for BIM – and this will need to be done by the government and the industry working together to train up our workforce and, crucially, through investment.
4. AI will create cool robots – ones that can dig, survey, demolish and excavate and nobody, aside from the unions, is going to argue with that, are they? We haven’t yet worked out the limits of what AI can do and its power and benefits are still to be harnessed.
5. AI will impact on your site logistics, safety automation, efficiencies, programme plan times and costs. That is, of course, all well and good if you know how to use the technology. But you need to know what you don’t know. So watch out for a fast growing band of management consultants armed with the prized expertise showing you how to get to the Promised Land.
6. Aside from the emerging band of thousands of chain-gang style working robots, AI will replace thousands of professional jobs, too. Companies in the financial services sector, such as Aviva, are already encouraging staff to come forward if they see their jobs going down the swanny on the promise of relocation and upskilling. So get with the program before you’re replaced by a bleeping gadget that is a whole lot less sleepy than you are first thing on a Monday morning.
7. Let’s not worry too much though, folks, because you’re still going to need a QS. Somebody to fight your financial battles. An informed professional providing you with counsel on product specification, numbers and angles. No amount of big data, automated spreadsheets and marketing algorithms is ever going to replace the wit, pragmatism and hunger for the nuances of a negotiation of the individuals within the QS profession.
8. The same applies to our architects and designers. It is true that the technical side of design will be enshrined within what suppliers call an “integrated design systems solution” that fulfils your needs not just now “but in the future”. But who’s going to tell you about the building’s contours and scribble that outline on the back of your notepad?
9. And, finally, AI is not going to replace our industry leaders any time soon. Personality is key and clients want to see the whites of, say, Mace boss Steve Pycroft’s eyes, when he’s building the tallest building in Europe. Or have Tony Pidgley’s word that a deal can be done.
10. But do not make the mistake of thinking you can put your feet up on all this. You need to be on top of it. The extent of information, data and insight that those construction clients are going to have in the future will dwarf by far anything they have now. So although we may not be doomed just yet, the pace of change in a traditional industry is about to step up a level, and there will likely be a whole heap of fun and pain along the way.