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Why robots “taking our jobs” is a positive development for architecture, engineering and construction

Robots are taking our jobs! That’s often the headline we see in the mainstream press when journalists talk about artificial intelligence (AI).

But the reality is that the process of using software and AI to speed up our working practices started several decades ago.

It used to be that you created designs in 2D using a pencil and paper, but our modern ability to use software to design in 3D makes us much more efficient. AI will help us take those efficiencies to a new level.

Designing on a computer – where a designer, architect or engineer is using the computer as a passive tool – is going to become the “old” way of working. In the new world we will work together with computers as “co-creators”.

This “generative design” – where people and computers collaborate – is already happening. A robotics company has been the first to use generative design to create a pedestrian bridge that will span a canal in Amsterdam.

Robots have now 3D printed the 12-metre steel structure and it will undergo some load tests before being put in place over the canal in October 2018.

The future is already here and I believe that we need to embrace collaboration with AI.

The reality of our work is that there are time constraints and you can only create a certain number of options for your client when you’re working alone. Whereas when you work with AI algorithms and modern computing power, you can create hundreds or even thousands of options very quickly. You can use AI to narrow down the suitable options, and then select the best one for your client.

The benefits to our sector are potentially vast.

Firstly we’ll save time and be more economical. Computers can conduct simulations and test designs before anything is created in real life – meaning fewer expensive changes will be needed down the line.

And secondly, this collaborative working will boost creativity. We’ll be able to create novel constructions that the human brain may never have come up with alone.

I don’t believe we need to be concerned with losing our jobs to robots, as we will always need the input of humans to start the design process and make sure we are feeding in the right inputs. We all know the phrase “garbage in = garbage out”. And you still need a human eye to look over the results and to check and ratify designs with the benefit of experience.

What do you think? Will you embrace AI or do you have concerns about it?

It would be good to hear your thoughts, and if you need any input from a structural engineer (a human one, not a robot!) then please do get in touch.

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