Welcome to an exciting new publication covering exciting new developments in how construction gets done.

I am taking the opportunity in my first Publisher’s Corner column to remind you that we are at the beginning of a new technology transformation fueled by Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. While AI to some degree has been in development the last 20-30 years, it has only very recently accelerated, driven in part by the introduction of ChatGPT last November.

Hoping it helps you grapple with and benefit from these changes yourself, let me trace my own journey to three other transformative technologies while pointing out some specific benefits to the construction industry. 


Tracing the Development of Major Tech Breakthroughs – Past 50 Years


Microcomputers and spreadsheets.  Very soon after homemade microcomputers and the Apple PC came on the scene in the late '70s, a program called VisiCalc was launched that turned the hobbyist machines into a serious business tool.  When the IBM PC came along and “MS-DOS” machines proliferated, VisiCalc gave way to Lotus 1-2-3 which gave way to Microsoft Excel.  No one has to tell you the importance of Excel and how it democratized microcomputers for the business-use masses. The construction industry found it especially useful for estimating, scheduling, inventory management and tracking production.  

The Internet. Although the Internet started earlier, it was in the early '90s with the advent of web browsers that the Internet launched its journey into the fabric of our society. It’s now in our phones, our cars, our watches and even our refrigerators!  The Internet was originally about connectivity and communications, think primarily email.  Importantly, search engines started appearing in the mid-90s, with Google dropping anchor in 1998.  Search is now ubiquitous and essential. Like the business world in general, the Internet made instant communication and the transfer of documents possible, enabling the disparate participants of a construction project able to resolve problems immediately instead of waiting hours and days for mail or courier.  

Smartphones. Independent of the Internet, the mobile phone wave followed, also started in earnest in the mid-'90s, evolving through a period of Palm Pilots and Blackberries to culminate in the Smartphone revolution that started in 2007 with the Apple iPhone.  Today, more than 85% of the world’s adult population own a smartphone; 90%+ in the US.  The mobile phones and smartphones enabled instant communication to deal with problems from the jobsite, the field office, home office or home, another great time saver and issue resolution tool. 


Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and ChatGPT


Although AI applications were being built to some degree in the last dozen or two years, it's the winter of '22-'23 that will mark the transformation to the AI era, primarily due to ChatGPT. AI-integrated applications have already been introduced for jobsite reality capture, scheduling and estimating, and many more are on their way, and will be covered in these pages.  But it is ChatGPT along with its enhancements and successors that will have the most impact for most people.  ChatGPT will do documentation, record keeping and communication what spreadsheets has done for number crunching. In some ways, ChatGPT may even replace spreadsheets, since it can produce tables complete with data from simple language commands. 

If you have read thru Construction AI’s Guide to ChatGPT for Design and Construction, you have already seen the many tasks it can perform. From writing RFIs and change orders to creating tables and schedules, it is only limited by the imagination of the user.  And relevant to the previous comment about replacing spreadsheets with data, here’s a simple example.  One could ask ChatGPT to create a 52-week calendar, one row for each week, with columns for the 6 days of the week, and to include a safety meeting 10:00AM every Monday, team lunch meeting 12:00PM every Wednesday, a weekly schedule meeting every Friday at 1:00 and a Project Meeting the last Friday of every month except if Friday is a holiday.  ChatGPT will provide the output ready to copy into a Word document or Excel spreadsheet, ready to add additional data as necessary.  An extension of this process is to ask ChatGPT to write HTML code for placement on a webpage to be shared with the team. As with any discussion of ChatGPT, keep in mind that it is not doing all the work for you, but can perform 10-90% but always needs that human review and intervention.  

Software companies have been producing applications for estimating, scheduling, document management and a myriad of other functions over the years.  The dilemma for software companies and users alike is everyone does something a little differently.  The software vendors have to program all kinds of functionality to try and address everyone’s needs, making the software more complex for the end user to use and for the software company to maintain. Then in use, there’s always little twists and turns, making the software work great for 3 times out of 4, but on the 4th time, it doesn’t quite produce the outcome desired.  That’s why a great many of us still rely on MS Word and Excel to accomplish needed tasks. We don’t want to the frustrating experience of trying to work with a mammoth software application or an overburdened IT staff. 

ChatGPT will help improve this workflow, plus, in some cases, perform various specific tasks just how we want them without having to purchase complex software. This leads to another potential outcome of the rapid AI evolution. Increasingly, a number of recent startups are producing applications to accomplish very specific tasks. For example, instead of relying on a major application that has material purchase orders and costs information to also produce inventory and material handling tasks just the way each project manager needs, separate AI-applications, either standalone or integrated with the financial system, will be available to address each project managers need.