AI special: ‘The potential is enormous’

The CIOB Digital Special Interest Group took part in a ‘mind hive’ on artificial intelligence (AI) – here’s what they said.

Momentum is definitely building behind AI in construction and ultimately it will have a profound impact on the sector.

That is the overriding view of the Chartered Institute of Building’s Digital Technologies & Asset Management Special Interest Group.

Aecom global BIM/MIC consultancy director David Philp (above), who chairs the group, said: “Although there is a lot of misdefinition and hype around AI we believe it will ultimately have a profound effect on built environment landscape and AI will allow us to take real meaning from our data.

“Combined with distributed ledger technology like Blockchain, it could also help solve adversarial issues which we believe will enable new forms of outcome based transactional contracts. Momentum is most definitely building for AI in the construction sector.

“With the advances in information modelling and processing like BIM, big data, IoT, which all contribute towards capturing, storing and manipulating data, we are at a much better place to develop smart and intelligent systems across the board. With BIM becoming so pervasive, I am confident there will be a resurgence and revival in a lot of the academic prototype systems.”

The group said the combination of distributed ledger technology, such as Blockchain and AI, will enable new forms of outcome-based transactional contracts and thus could help solve payment disputes. 

“I would submit that the potential is enormous, ranging from assisting designers particularly at the early stages of conceptual design in developing and evaluating options, which as we all know is a hugely knowledge-intensive, to estimating through to construction and beyond,” said Philp.

Members also picked up on the potential impact of AI on health and safety as well as its uses in predicting security risks and implementing preventative measures.

The group also observed that with some of the self-driving vehicle technologies already being applied on mining sites, we could see this being used more in construction.

The application of generative design and optioneering is another area ripe for development. “Taking a large airport as an example, there may be 10 different shortlisted design options on the table and some are better for some metrics but not others,” remarked one member. “At the moment this is a tedious manual process to work through and weight each factor. I can see this being replaced by sophisticated AI processes to find the best fit solution.”

The group added: “Over the years, AI has undergone several waves of growing and waning interest and there was a time when a lot of us academics working on these topics almost abandoned it because there did not seem to me much uptake by the industry and we felt hamstrung for several technical reasons as well.

“Not surprisingly the construction industry was more sceptical than others as it always is about any modern tech. Lately, with the surge in applications across a number of domains we are now suddenly waking up to the enormous potential of automation through AI applications in just about every sector.

One of the other key technical reasons many people began to lose faith in AI was the enormous amount of data/information/knowledge required to develop any effective AI systems.

The Chartered Institute of Building’s (CIOB) Digital Technologies & Asset Management Special Interest Group is chaired by David Philp FCIOB, global BIM/MIC consultancy director at Aecom, and with expertise from across the built environment, the SIG focuses on how digital technologies are transforming the construction sector. 

Members of the SIG: David Philp, Jennifer MacDonald, Noha Saleeb, Wes Beaumont, Stefan Mordue, Bimal Kumar, Steve Lynch, Neil Thompson, Rachel Atkinson, James Daniel, Rebecca De Cicco, Roy Evans

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