The construction industry is undergoing profound changes fueled by the increasingly fast adoption rate of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies including ChatGPT, Nate Fuller, founder of Placer Solutions, told attendees of the AI Excellence in Construction Virtual Summit on March 6.  

“What we are witnessing here [in the construction industry] is the second wave of AI,” Fuller said. Fuller has fifteen years of experience in civil engineering, construction management, and tech implementation. He’s also managed emerging technologies and helped build the Office of Innovation at Bechtel. 

The construction industry is revolutionizing the way it processes information and doing so in a natural manner that appears to be gaining speed with each passing day, he said. It’s an “organic” evolution sparked by rapid advancements in computational power, Fuller added. 

He offered up seven key takeaways from a recent Placer Solutions research report addressing integration of advanced AI, specifically large language models, in the construction industry. 

1.     The second wave of AI is here to stay. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of those surveyed said they already use tools like ChatGPT at least daily or weekly. A larger group, 84%, said it is acceptable to use ChatGPT for work. Industry has opened an “internet-size world of new use cases and applications,” Fuller said. 

2.     The AI hype is real, and people are adapting in real-time. “The industry’s shift, met with a mix of fear and optimism, is considered by many as a necessary competitive edge and could be one of the most significant accelerants in redefining the industry’s future,” Fuller said. The Placer survey found 32% were “aware of an employer policy about AI.”

3.     The Industry is increasingly aware of the risks associated with AI. While AI may intimidate some with seemingly “oracle-like” power, in reality, AI is simply a “testament to advanced algorithms churning through petabytes of data to discern complex patterns,” Fuller said. However, it’s important to remember and address the reality that AI comes with its own risks, including cybersecurity threats and potential inaccuracies in output. “It’s vital to acknowledge and prepare for these challenges,” Fuller said. 

4.     Large builders are ramping up data teams. Annual surveys done by Placer Solutions since 2020 “indicate that the digital revolution is finally knocking at construction’s door, with a surge in digital roles across top contractors,” Fuller said. The Placer survey found one-third of the Engineering News Record 400 construction companies have a dedicated data, innovation, or construction technology team. 

5.     AI offers “enormous opportunities in day-to-day process improvements,” the survey said. The array of technologies will “change the construction industry by streamlining and automating processes in preconstruction, equipment management, field services, material optimization, and craft labor,” the report suggests. 

6.     Consumer AI agents are becoming personalized and more useful. As they become increasingly effective and focused, they will “automate routine tasks, freeing up time for professionals to focus on more creative and meaningful activities,” the report says. 

7.      We are witnessing a transition from “knowledge workers to ‘knowledgeable’ workers,” the report says. However, it adds, “Early preparation and responsible governance are key to leveraging AI as a strategic advantage in construction.”