Robots on the Construction Site? Not Anytime Soon
Melanie Stone posted on March 03, 2020 |
Construction technology won’t be replacing construction workers anytime soon.
Artist rendering of robots and other autonomous devices building and assessing a construction site. (Image courtesy of Bim+.)
Artist rendering of robots and other autonomous devices building and assessing a construction site. (Image courtesy of Bim+.)

We are many decades past ruminations of Isaac Asimov, Alan Turing, 2001 and even DARPA’s (U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s) first forays into artificial intelligence (AI), but how far has the technology really come in practical applications? There was a slowdown in government funding for related research after feasibility studies in the late 60s and early 70s, which would seem to indicate that there has not been enough return for the cost and effort of AI.

But, remember IBM’s Deep Blue beating the World Chess Champion and the associated discussions of AI? Some questioned whether the technology was anything more than processing potential moves and consequences faster than a human. Rather than making actual decisions, AI was using binary processes to select the optimal choice.

About a decade ago, there was a project that eventually morphed into the Google Brain. Jeff Dean and Andrew Ng built a neural net and fed it images. In the end, the system had sorted and recognized a cat. It also recognized a human face and a human body. But it was the cat that captured our imagination.

There have been other technologies in the headlines—AlexNet, AlphaGo, PackBot, speech recognition, IBM Watson, Eugene Goostman, self-driving cars, and Skype real-time translation. But in terms of the purpose of design and construction, the question remains: Will these artificial intelligences (or at least increasingly complex algorithms with machine learning) replace human workers?

According to Julian Anderson, president of Rider Levett Bucknall North America, “A great amount of work in the construction industry is not new construction. It is renovations and placing spaces within existing spaces, which will need somebody to have an eyeball for it and come up with a concept for that space,” he said.

“Artificial intelligence is one form of technology that has captured the attention of the construction sector, which could generate a vision for a space similar to a human but would most likely determine the visual on cost-effective principles. Even then, across the supply chain, the need for the human mind is necessary,” Anderson said.

However, it has been our experience that most automation on the user side comes only through concerted and considerable time and effort on the provider’s side. If any technology does replace designers and construction workers at some point, that point is very far in our future.

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