The sound bites on artificial intelligence lately suggest we have much to fear. “Spooked by ChatGPT, US Lawmakers Want to Create an AI Regulator,” says one headline. “Runaway AI Is an Extinction Risk, Experts Warn,” says another. “The Godfather of A.I. Has Some Regrets,” says a third.
But when you unpack AI for construction, you find it’s something to embrace. AI holds great potential to help executives, superintendents and others to work more efficiently. That’s the take-away from a webinar I attended—“AI, GPT, Automation and Briq”—presented by construction software company, Briq. The webinar demystified all the buzzwords. More importantly, it helped attendees understand that a human work experience is coming.
Briq believes that OpenAI’s ChatGPT, and other generative AI chatbots like it, can take the busy work out of much construction tasking. The language model ChatGPT, for example, could generate RFIs, invoice GCs and handle rudimentary estimating tasks. ChatGPT combined with bots would spare your team of repetitive work and allow them to focus on more project tasks.
“You need a copilot. You need an assistant,” said Bassem Hamdy, Briq co-founder and chief executive officer, during the webinar. “You need that concept of a machine helping you run your business.”
Boy do you need help. At the time of this writing, the construction industry had 341,000 job openings and nine months’ average backlogs on the books, according to Associated Builders and Contractors. We don’t have enough humans to get our work done. Furthermore, the younger generation of workers isn’t wired to clerically copy and paste data from one piece of software into another to follow up on, say, RFIs. So why don’t we “hire” some bots and language models? Bots powered by generative AI could handle many of the Ctrl+Cs and Ctrl+Vs you already do, but they could do so more speedily—and without complaining.
Yes, machines can be taught to do repetitive tasks. That’s called machine learning. With AI involved, the machines do even more—not only remembering what to do, but also predicting outcomes and inventing better workflows.
“[AI] is the first technology that’s been taught to use other technologies,” Hamdy said in the webinar. “It’s the first technology where we are saying, ‘Wow, this will eliminate [some of] the workload.’”
An Orchestration Tool
Remember when you worked off paper shop drawings and made comments on them with Post-it® Notes? You probably bought software technologies to digitize the drawings and comments. Get ready for the next step in the world of work. With AI, digital comments can be collected, collated and used to generate that RFI, to compile a change order and more.
The AI-powered bots you will use one day will “know” how you’ve done work in the past. They pay attention. Generative AI will be able to suggest novel approaches to handling, and billing for, your work. Bots and AI systems will eliminate entire steps from your construction workflows. Interestingly, small construction firms will be the biggest winners using AI systems, Hamdy said.
The generative AI stuff you’re hearing a lot about—ChatGPT, for example—can use past learnings to paraphrase new ideas. Generative AI will be able to automate some workflows and crunch and collate tasks more accurately and faster than a human ever could.
“Forget about all these fancy terms—GPT, AI, automation,” said Hamdy. “At the most basic concept, you need a playbook. You need an orchestration tool. You need something that runs these very gnarly workflows that are multi-departmental and multi-person.”
Yes, estimators, PMs, superintendents, accountants, CFOs, presidents all get involved in a project. You need a way to process and collate their touch points. AI could save your firm thousands of person-hours every year in finding and processing that data. It can care for repetitive tasks, and being predictive AI can plan for better outcomes. One day, AI will identify where profit erosion is occurring on your jobs and recommend solutions to stop it.
Well, I’m a believer. The doom and gloom stuff about AI affecting society? Yes, we’ll have to pay attention to that. But overall, AI for construction seems like a good deal.
Mark L. Johnson writes for the wall and ceiling industry. He can be reached via linkedin.com/in/markjohnsoncommunications.