AI is already here

Jan 21, 2024


We must adapt or we could miss out on an opportunity to transform the future of the AEC industry.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on the Engineering Management Institute’s blog, linked here.

I recently had the opportunity to attend Zweig Group’s Minds & Machines Symposium in Nashville, Tennessee. The event was a very interesting and in-depth look into the world of artificial intelligence and the inevitable impact its implementation will have on our industry. It might come as a bit of a shock, but at this very moment there are already more than 60,000 AI companies across the globe, with more than 18,000 founded in the United States. That’s a huge amount!

That means AI is already here. If you haven’t seen it yet, you will very soon. We in the AEC space may feel disconnected from AI, but it will certainly infiltrate our industry. In fact, it already has, although not in mass consumption, yet. The Engineering Management Institute publishes a podcast focused on this topic, the AEC Engineering Technology Podcast.

Let’s do a brief overview of what Zweig Group’s Minds & Machines event covered:

  • AI 101. This session summarized the AI technologies that would be discussed at the symposium, a brief look at the current applications in the AEC space, and ideas of where we could see AI being used in the foreseeable future.
  • AI across AEC sectors. This session took a deeper dive into the particular sectors of AEC and how AI is currently molding its way into different use cases. For instance, Nvidia is currently working on a 3D modeling application to rival the likes of industry titans like Autodesk and Bentley. Interestingly enough, this software will reach over into the asset management/public infrastructure industry too, once geolocation services are added into the mix which will challenge companies like ESRI and Trimble. Additionally, Autodesk is coming out with a platform called Forma which will be a cloud-based software for early-stage planning and design.
  • AI’s role in design and construction processes. Another session discussed how AI will play a prominent role in our design and construction processes. There were three parts to this session: Part one explored how AI will enhance the design process by implementing local design standards. Part two covered AI in robotics. This was construction-focused, and detailed autonomous vehicles, drones, and how AI can be used for things like site inspections, material delivery, and construction assembly. Part three explored how AI will change energy optimization in MEP, structural, and civil design. According to Goldman Sachs, 37 percent of tasks can now be automated by AI in architecture. In my opinion, the industry that will be impacted the most going forward is architecture, since most of the work done is in design.
  • AI for project management. There are also some developments happening with AI in project management. Consulting firms in particular could benefit from this when common PM processes are integrated as standards. Let’s take into account the following scenario: What if you bid on a particular project and use AI to pick out a type of consulting service based on a bank of information from experiences your firm has built up over time? Maybe you have a massive stormwater conveyance and management project. Your job is to design a new conceptual landscape in a shopping center, to convey water in a way that will impact businesses the least. What if you could enter this into your AI software, and the AI spits out a range of documents? For example, the output might include a few alternative plans, a scope sheet, a cost estimate, a proposal, etc. all with the push of a button. I think that would be pretty amazing and scary at the same time.
  • AI’s impact on business development. Now let’s get into business development. In one session, Rachelle Ray of RMR Consulting joined us to discuss some interesting things that Joist.AI and Adobe Firefly are doing to increase the effectiveness of our marketing tools and strategies. For example, the creator of Joist.AI is a Texas A&M grad and developed the company to help AEC professionals create proposals in the AEC space. It also gives the user insights to make better business decisions.

One question we have to ask ourselves going forward is, “How will AI impact us?” This is crucial for us to know moving forward. For me, it’s hard to tell. While AI could be very helpful, it could also be harmful. I can see the benefit of innovation, in how the implementation of AI can drastically increase the efficiency of our work. Proposals, design, and construction efforts are already being impacted by AI and there is only a matter of time before new advancements are made for our industry.

My biggest concern is about the possible replacement of employees or the reclassification of services and prices thereof. In my opinion, this revolution will go one of two ways: Either more work will become automated, which would lessen the need for employees, or AEC firms will join in the revolution, and retain their talent, but in an effort to stay competitive will reduce the prices of their services over time given project tasks can be done faster and more efficiently.

Overall, there was so much to learn at Zweig Group’s Minds & Machine Symposium, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent there. Going forward, I’m interested to see how AI will impact the construction industry, particularly with the use of autonomous vehicles given human and earthly error on construction sites. I also wonder how effective AI can be in controlling and adapting to different environmental conditions and business decisions. However, considering what we explored during this event, it is difficult to determine just what AI cannot do when given time to develop. But one thing is certain: We as AEC professionals have to adapt to the change. Otherwise, we could miss out on a great opportunity to evolve the future of the AEC industry.

If you find this topic interesting, I recommend you consider attending one of the next Mind & Machines Symposiums. Click here to learn more.

Matthew Douglas is operations leader of The Engineering Management Institute. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.