This is a guest post by Matthew Douglas
I recently had the opportunity to attend the Zweig: Minds and Machines Conference in Nashville, TN. The conference was a very interesting, in-depth look into the world of artificial intelligence (AI) and the inevitable impact its implementation will have in our industry. It might come as a bit of a shock but at this very moment, there are already 60,000-plus AI companies across the globe, with over 18,000 founded in the United States. That’s a huge amount!
But even more, that just means that AI is already here — if you haven’t seen it yet, you will see it very, very soon. Now in the AEC space, we may feel a bit disconnected from it, but it will certainly infiltrate our industry — and, in fact, it already has, although not in mass consumption yet. We publish a podcast focused on this topic at EMI, the AEC Engineering Technology Podcast.
So to start us off, let’s do a brief overview of what was discussed at the conference. We’ll start off with a session entitled AI 101. This session summarized which AI technologies were on the menu to be discussed at the conference, a brief look at the current applications in the AEC space, and ideas of where we can see ourselves in the foreseeable future.
Another session took a deeper dive into the various sectors of AEC and how AI is currently molding its way into different use cases. Nvidia, for instance, is currently working on a 3D modeling application to rival the likes of industry titans like Autodesk and Bentley. Interestingly enough, this software will reach over into the asset management/public infrastructure industry too, once geolocation services are added into the mix (which will challenge companies like ESRI and Trimble). In addition, Autodesk is coming out with a platform called Forma, which will be a cloud-based software for early-stage planning and design.
Another session discussed how AI will play a prominent role in our design and construction processes. There were three parts to this session:
- Part A explored how AI will enhance the design process by implementing local design standards.
- Part B covered AI in robotics. This was very construction focused, detailing autonomous vehicles, drones, and how AI can be used in things like site inspections, material delivery, and construction assembly.
- Part C explored how AI will change energy optimization in MEP, structural, and civil design.
A very interesting fact was shared by Goldman Sachs, which was that 37% of tasks can now be automated by AI in architecture just to start. In my opinion, the industry that will be impacted the most going forward is architecture, since most of the work done is in design.
There are also some things coming down the pipeline, such as AI in project management, which was also covered at the conference. Consulting firms in particular could benefit from this when common PM processes are integrated as standards. Let’s take into account the following scenario. What if you bid on a particular project and use AI to pick out a type of consulting service based on a bank of information from experiences your firm has built up over time? Maybe you have a massive stormwater conveyance and management project. Your job is to design a new conceptual landscape in a shopping center to convey water in a way that will impact businesses the least. What if you could enter this into your AI software and it spit out a range of documents? For example, the output might include a few alternative plans, a scope sheet, a cost estimate, a proposal, etc., all with the push of a button. I think that would be pretty amazing and scary at the same time.
Now let’s get into business development. In one session, Rachelle Ray of RMR Consulting joined us to tell us about some interesting things that Joist.AI and Adobe Firefly are doing to increase the effectiveness of our marketing tools and strategies. For example, the creator of Joist.AI is a Texas A&M grad who developed the company to help AEC professionals create proposals in the AEC space. It also gives the user insights to make better business decisions.
The remaining sessions covered topics such as privacy and security, how AEC firms can stand out from the competition, how to handle operational shifts, and future trends. As a result of these last sessions, I believe one question we have to ask ourselves is “How will AI impact us?” This is crucial for us to know moving forward.
For me, it’s a bit hard to tell. While AI could be very helpful, it could also be very harmful. I can see the benefit of innovation, in how the implementation of AI can drastically increase the efficiency of our work. Proposals, design, and construction efforts are already being impacted by AI, and it is only a matter of time before new advancements are made for our industry.
My biggest concern is about the possible replacement of employees or the reclassification of services and prices thereof. In my opinion, this revolution will only go one of two ways. Either more work will become automated, which would lessen the need for employees, or AEC firms will join in the revolution and retain their talent, but in an effort to stay competitive will reduce the prices of their services over time given that project tasks can be done faster and more efficiently.
Overall, there was so much to learn at the Minds and Machine conference, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent there. I am very interested to see how AI will impact the construction industry (in particular, autonomous vehicles given human and earthly error on construction sites). I wonder how effective AI can be in controlling and adapting to different environmental conditions and business decisions. However, with the depth we’ve explored in this conference, it is difficult to determine just what AI cannot do when given time to develop. But one thing is for sure: We as AEC professionals have to adapt to the change. Otherwise, we could miss out on a great opportunity to evolve the future of the AEC industry.
If you find this topic interesting, I recommend you consider attending the next Mind and Machines Conference, which you can learn more about here.
About the Author:
Matthew Douglas currently serves as the operations leader for the Engineering Management Institute. As a leader, Matthew’s goal is to ensure the efficacy and efficiency of the Learning and Development group. As a civil engineer by trade, Matthew has developed a passion for construction and stormwater management by way of maintenance and rehabilitation services. Matthew has also had experience working for private consulting firms and public agencies and has even held the role of an educator. As such, he loves to lead, build, mentor, and help those in need.
Most recently, during his time working for the public sector, Matthew took on the role of a public works operations manager. There he led quite a few public infrastructure rehabilitation projects and implemented new asset management technologies at a very young age. It is here that the passion for “fixing what’s broken” developed. He now uses his talents to lead EMI’s Learning and Development – Operational procedures, train engineers, and co-host podcasts.
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To your success,
Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success