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Summer Series: Generative AI for Construction

This summer we are embarking on a summer blog series looking at technologies that are making an impact in the construction industry. Perhaps one of the most transformative technologies that everyone is currently talking about is generative AI (artificial intelligence).

At its core, AI is a term for a computer system that can perform complex tasks that would traditionally require human intelligence. With AI, decisions can easily be made in construction businesses. Taking this concept a step further, generative AI describes algorithms that can be used to create new data. Think ChatGPT, which can understand human language and respond in a way that feels relatively natural—although some still argue the validity and clarity of such content, as it is still in nascent stage.

Still, the opportunities for AI are wide and vast and certainly AI isn’t a brand new term. Many movies and books in the 20th century popularized this sci fi concept that information could be used to solve complex problems—which is precisely what many technology companies aim to do today.

The challenge is many of those movies also often depicted a machine or android rising up and the horrifying implications that follow—which is also something many companies are grappling with today (albeit in very different ways than depicted in the movies). Today, let’s explore how AI is unfolding in construction and the very real hurdles and opportunities that exist today.

Opportunities Abound

Many reports today suggest there is very rapid growth on the horizon for artificial intelligence in construction. As one example, JetRockets has released a new report that provides insight into adoption trends and the impact of generative AI in general.

This report surveyed 400 CIOs (chief information officers) and CTOs (chief technology officers) and uncovered roughly 90% have already integrated generative AI into their processes. Additionally, 99% are planning to ramp up investment in the next 3-6 months. Those numbers are quite high compared to other reports, as we will see in a minute, but keep in mind this particular report is specifically surveying CIOs and tech professionals.

Organizations can use generative AI for predictive maintenance and equipment monitoring, natural language processing and chatbots, and data analysis and visualization. Every single respondent in the JetRockets survey believes generative AI will create positive change, shorten timelines, and improve quality.

Another new report from stepsize gives a glimpse into what people who work in software think about the impact of AI and their company’s approach to adoption. Again, keep in mind, these are tech folks. The AI Adoption in Software Report 2023 shows teams who adopt AI can go 3.5 times faster.

This report also shows AI adoption is on the rise, with 70% of software teams adopting AI. Still, this means 30% of companies are not adopting AI—and have no plans to do so. The resistance to adopting AI can be for myriad reasons—all of which should be explored.

Challenges Lurk Ahead

The hurdles to readily adopting generative AI in any industry—let alone in construction—are vast. One of the biggest hurdles to overcome is trust. This is precisely the reason the European Union recently handed Meta, the owner of the Facebook social media platform, a nearly $1.3 billion penalty for failing to properly safeguard European Facebook users’ data stored and processed on U.S. data centers. GlobalData suggests the EU penalty is driven by concerns surrounding AI and generative AI.

So, while there isn’t necessarily a physical machine that is rising up like we saw in the movies in decades past, there are still plenty of concerns about data being leveraged in unsavory ways that must be addressed. Too often companies don’t have guidelines or ethics around AI, which is cause for chaos. Sometimes we run too fast and too furious to a new, hot technology that we aren’t exactly prepared for the ramifications.

This is simply the tip of the iceberg too. The AI Adoption in Software Report 2023 shows concerns about reliability and immaturity and data privacy were the two greatest barriers, with 48% of respondents citing each as a barrier to adoption. Additionally, 38% of businesses believe they lack the necessary expertise to implement AI, and 33% are apprehensive about potential legal, IP, and regulatory issues. Additionally, 26% of respondents say there is resistance to change, which is holding their teams back.

One challenge that can’t be discussed enough is the expertise gap that still exists. The JetRockets study suggests 88% of IT leaders identify a lack of expertise in generative AI as the greatest challenge in scaling their investments. As a result, 92% of IT leaders say they are upskilling existing staff to bridge the expertise gap, rather than replacing them. Interestingly, the survey suggests 88% of CIOs and CTOs believe generative AI cannot fully replace human employees such as software developers but 50% believe generative AI will actually increase their strategic importance in the future.

Building on this concept a bit further, we see that the people might not be quite ready, but we also see the digital infrastructure also might not be quite ready to accommodate AI technology. Equinix 2023 Global Tech Trends Survey suggests four in 10 IT leaders surveyed globally believe their existing IT infrastructure is not fully prepared for the demands of AI technology.

If we want to get AI right, it needs to be secure, protect privacy, and promote transparency. Companies need to have clear objectives—and involve all stakeholders—when proceeding forward in this new era of work. When selecting specific technologies, companies must also ensure the new tools integrate with existing systems to make processes as seamless as possible.

Do you have transformative technology designed specifically for the construction industry? We want to hear about it! Soon we will have a call to entry for our 2024 Constructech Top Products award program. Make sure to enter your product for consideration.

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