Is AI the Next Big Thing in Construction? Welcoming Our Robot Overlords

Is AI the Next Big Thing in Construction? Welcoming Our Robot Overlords

Artificial intelligence is increasingly in the news as new uses are discovered for it in a variety of industries. However, there are some jobs that just seem so innately “human” that it’s hard to picture this sort of technology ever replacing the workforce in any meaningful way. A lot of people consider construction to be one of these industries; while you can build a robot that can carry a sheet of drywall and sink some screws, it just doesn’t seem cost effective when a human laborer can get the job done cheaper, faster and better.

This doesn’t mean that AI won’t have a place in the construction industry. In fact, as artificial intelligence becomes more common in the workplace you may find that it is one of the most useful tools in your arsenal.

What Is Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial intelligence is actually a pretty vague term in the way it’s commonly used. As a discipline, what’s commonly thought of as AI is actually broken down into three different categories: Artificial intelligence, machine learning and deep learning. Artificial intelligence refers to the ability of a computer to examine its environment and make decisions based on its observations. Machine learning is the ability of computer algorithms to improve automatically as they accrue more experience (typically by adjusting weighted values.) Deep learning is the ability of algorithms to process data on multiple levels, allowing the algorithm to make much more meaningful observations than would be possible using standard machine learning techniques.

If this all sounds confusing, here’s what you need to remember. When you hear someone talk about AI, at least in modern technology, they’re not talking about “smart” machines that can think and act like a human. They’re talking about machines that can make adjustments in real time based on what’s going on around them, and some of them can analyze data in some really impressive ways. In the construction industry, though, it’s that first type of AI that you’re most likely to encounter.

Rise of the Smart Machines

Chances are you’ve already had some dealings with AI of some type. Smart thermostats and other “smart” devices use some form of artificial intelligence to make adjustments to their settings based on the parameters you set. When you leave the house and a smart thermostat adjusts its settings to keep the air from kicking on, that’s a form of artificial intelligence at work.

AI is increasingly used in computer software as well, and not just in the obvious forms like Cortana, Alexa and Siri. AI is used in a lot of analysis functions to improve results while reducing the speed and computing power required to perform those functions. You’ve likely used AI without even knowing it if you have accounting software or a number of other common options. If you’ve used any AR (augmented reality) apps, translation apps that use your phone’s camera or anything else that can recognize or categorize images or information, then you’ve dabbled in AI.

Why AI Is Great for Construction

The construction industry doesn’t need sheet-rock robots to benefit from artificial intelligence. There are already some software solutions being designed for contractors that help to optimize project planning and reduce costs while preparing bids. AI can also help to optimize travel to and from job sites, cutting back on fuel expenditures and helping your crew get more done during the day.

Future advances in AI may even lead to even more impressive changes to the industry. Likely results of AI advances include the introduction of more durable construction materials, better supply chain management to ensure that you have the materials and equipment you need exactly when you need it and even new building designs that offer increased strength while using fewer materials and labor hours to build. AI offers a number of opportunities for contractors, and once the image of clunky robots trying to take contractor jobs goes away, then the industry will really embrace the future.

Which potential uses of artificial intelligence are you most excited about?