The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) is preparing to launch a playbook focused on AI’s role in construction. Ahead of its publication, the CIOB staged an online conference about the issue.
David Philp, chief value officer at Cohesive and chair of CIOB’s Innovation Advisory Panel, opened the CIOB AI conference on 1 February. In his keynote address, he said: “The construction industry is in the age of AI, whether we recognise it or not and it’s already prevalent in all walks of our life and business.”
He added the industry is witnessing AI – despite having been around for many decades at a low level of maturity – now evolving at an accelerated pace, supporting construction’s ever-growing needs to build safer, more sustainably, with higher quality and improved service performance.
The arrival of ChatGPT has brought Large Language Models into everyday lives. It has caused an upsurge in interest in AI and its benefits and practical application, both among CIOB members and across the industry, said Philp.
He added that AI has the potential to revolutionise the sector, especially small and medium enterprises (SMEs), by democratising access to emerging technologies and applications, enabling them to compete at a larger scale. “With AI, SMEs can level the playing field, allowing them to tap into capabilities that were once only available to large construction organisations,” he continued.
Philp highlighted the challenges the built environment faces from climate mitigation and adaption, responsible resource consumption, and ageing assets – doing nothing is not an option.
“As a CIOB working group, we recognise that the needs of industry and wider society are no longer serviceable using traditional methods.
“In short, we need to change quickly, and AI will increasingly become a catalyst for new ways of working and decision-making: AI supporting as our intelligent infrastructure co-pilot,” he said.
AI in asset management
The working group highlighted that some of the best AI use cases are in the asset management sector, where asset availability and resilience are critical. Philp also discussed how AI can help construction with complex asset management and surveying challenges such as RAAC, where Loughborough University has provided healthcare estates with a systematic process for collecting photographic records.
The team has witnessed many use cases where AI supports operations and maintenance activities, disrupting slow manual data collection and analysis methods. Philp also highlighted the increasing benefits of ‘computer vision’ to construction management. This is a field of AI that trains computers to capture and interpret information from image and video data – and has many safety and productivity use cases.
He also moved on to discuss Generative AI, which harnesses the power of AI to develop new high-performance design iterations that help solve complex challenges, scale customisation, and optimise performance. It is an area many design consultants and specialist manufacturers are already exploiting and one of the most common use cases today.
Meanwhile, a significant part of the CIOB AI playbook will focus on the legal and ethical approaches that need careful consideration, such as IP and ownership.
There is also the challenge of AI ‘hallucinations’, where AI models can generate incorrect or misleading results. These errors can be caused by various factors, including insufficient training data, incorrect assumptions made by the model, or biases in the data used to train the model.
Philp said: “We need to consider the AI black box problem. AI can do amazing things that humans cannot, but in many cases, we have no idea how AI systems make decisions. We need a ‘white box approach’, offering transparency – understanding of the AI model decision-making, understating of the reasoning behind each decision and provability behind decisions as key considerations.”
Eddie Tuttle, director of policy, external affairs and research at CIOB, added: “The construction sector by its nature is innovative and has often been at the forefront of technological advances and in adopting new ways of working. AI will play a key role in several sectors going forward, and leaders in the construction industry must act to understand how it can benefit the overall quality, safety, and productivity of construction. This particularly will apply to SMEs, given their demographic in the sector.
“The CIOB will act in the public interest, whether this be in providing our members and the wider built environment with information about technologies that can improve current practices, or in pushing for changes that can address some of the long-standing issues in the industry. Our recent AI conference and forthcoming guide will be just one part of a wider push to understand the impact of this technology and the importance of data in enabling this.”
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