The Impact of Generative AI in Construction

Josh Kanner and Rick Bell | Content Strategists | June 20, 2024

The emergence of generative AI and advanced data analytics stands to transform construction project management and decision-making as we know it.

At one level, GenAI applications can go a long way toward bringing order and clarity to project execution at a time when projects are becoming more complex and deadlines are getting shorter. And with skilled construction workers retiring faster than they can be replaced, GenAI can help firms streamline tasks and train new members of the workforce to help compensate for the labor shortage.

This article will explore how construction firms can implement GenAI to improve efficiency and increase profitability, as well as overcome some of the most common challenges.

What Is GenAI?

Generative AI or GenAI is a “new” artificial intelligence technique made possible by large language models. It has taken the world by storm since the GenAI-powered ChatGPT became the fastest product in the history of the internet to hit 1 million users—in just five days at the end of 2022.

GenAI is really good at summarizing content, extracting key facts, and creating new content (that’s where the word “generative” comes in) and doing so in ways that mimic human behavior, tone, and output.

The Associated Builders and Contractors trade association estimates that in order to meet demand in 2024, the industry needs to attract more than 500,000 additional workers on top of the normal pace of hiring. GenAI can help construction firms cut valuable time from various back-office and jobsite processes, as well as help train new members of the workforce—critical amid the chronic industry labor shortage.

Key Takeaways:

  • GenAI promises to make construction teams more efficient, from the back office to the field.
  • Using GenAI should have guardrails within your company. Review and fact-check all the results.
  • GenAI is particularly useful for summarizing and creating construction-specific documents.

How Will GenAI Impact Construction?

GenAI is poised to become an integral tool of the construction process, improving process efficiency, trimming costs, and enhancing construction performance, as well as helping firms address the talent gap.

An April 2024 McKinsey & Company study notes that for every 20 job openings in the industry there’s only one net new employee. That’s a 20:1 imbalance between hiring and available talent, making it clear that the industry needs more efficient recruitment processes. GenAI won’t do the work itself, but it can be a valuable tool to help train, upskill, and onboard new field personnel as new generations enter the construction workforce. GenAI also is excellent at summarizing and creating content, including emails, performance reviews, and construction schedules, easing the need for employees to do those jobs. There also are approaches to retrain GenAI models that then “teach” GenAI to do industry-specific tasks, such as the ones outlined in the section below.

7 Ways GenAI Will Be Used in Construction

  1. Automate tasks. Construction firms are starting to use GenAI and other AI techniques to automate the execution of specific tasks, such as reading and processing an invoice or anticipating and adjusting to supply chain interruptions.
  2. Assist with designing and planning. Architects and planners are using GenAI to create and iterate multiple program scenarios for a given owner. Tools use a combination of rule-based techniques to take program ideas and generate designs in 3D.
  3. Identify and correct building code violations. Some forward-thinking builders and owners are using GenAI to understand and then identify issues that may arise with building codes as they consider various design trade-offs.
  4. Summarize documents. Firms are using GenAI to summarize key parts of construction documentation into digests for pre-bid and project-delivery teams. They’re also using GenAI to summarize employee feedback in order to improve processes and procedures.
  5. Minimize risk. Construction firms can employ GenAI techniques to help ask questions of past project documentation in order to identify risks that might arise from particular kinds of project delivery methods.
  6. Create construction schedules. Firms can use GenAI tools to read construction documentation, create summaries, then use that data to create construction-specific documents, such as schedules.
  7. Help compensate for the talent shortage. It’s estimated that the construction industry faces a shortage of about 500,000 critical skilled workers, including HVAC installers, plumbers, and wind turbine service technicians. By streamlining the kinds of tasks described above, GenAI and other technologies can help personnel complete key tasks more quickly and efficiently.

4 Challenges and Limitations of GenAI in Construction

It’s important to keep in mind that GenAI at its core is a statistical approach. While it can help construction firms shave hours off a number of tasks and processes, someone must still oversee the final output. It’s your name on the deliverable, after all. Here are four challenges to overcome in using the technology.

  1. GenAI will produce errors. A common challenge with all GenAI-produced answers is the so-called hallucinations, results that are inaccurate and even flat-out wrong because of a lack of proper training data or missing context. Such results could, for example, lead construction project managers to produce inaccurate timelines or write a faulty RFI. Don’t be fooled by GenAI answers that appear to be authoritative: They can be confidently wrong.
  2. Need to mitigate GenAI risks. GenAI will never replace knowledge workers, but it will assist them. And as with all assistants, you must institute proper training and check that the results they give you are correct. In a 2024 journal paper published by MDPI, a publisher of open-access scientific journals, the authors offer several strategies for reducing GenAI errors, including “the use of high-quality training data, a strong grounding in engineering and construction knowledge, simulated testing to validate predictions…and the introduction of human oversight throughout the AI’s decision-making processes.”
  3. Managing GenAI models can be costly. Training and operating any GenAI model, especially sophisticated construction ones, can incur substantial software development, computing, and other costs.
  4. Deep domain knowledge required. There’s plenty of talk about GenAI taking over jobs, even some in construction. Don’t believe it. Construction relies heavily on its workers' vast expertise and institutional and individual knowledge—something that AI can’t readily replace. However, as the workforce ages out and institutional knowledge walks out the door with those people, GenAI can help fill crucial gaps.

Improve Your Construction Experience with Oracle

Oracle has a unique advantage in construction and engineering: It offers a full stack of industry-tailored cloud applications, including ones for scheduling, payment management, and construction project management, complemented by high-touch consulting. All of its cloud applications run on the highly secure and performant Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI).

Oracle is adding GenAI capabilities to OCI and its entire portfolio of cloud applications, including those for construction and engineering, enabling those organizations to gain the benefits of AI across their operations without having to change applications or interfaces.

With the ability to generate new workflows based on algorithms and trained data, GenAI presents the industry—which is still in the early stages of its digital journey—with an opportunity to help solve some of its most pressing problems, including a chronic labor shortage and the need to improve onsite safety and environmental sustainability.

GenAI in Construction FAQs

Which type of AI is used in construction?
Construction firms are adding GenAI as well as AI-based predictive analytics to their tool belt. Both are emerging in all areas of construction, enabling improvements in productivity and safety, for example.

Is AI currently being used in construction?
Absolutely, although the industry’s adoption is like it is for other technologies—notoriously slow. Still, it’s important for construction firms to understand that GenAI offers them opportunities to advance productivity and performance.

Will construction be taken over by AI?
That seems unlikely, especially in most of our lifetimes. Automation won’t replace manpower anytime soon. But as the construction environment grows more complex, with tighter deadlines and stricter budget requirements, firms can use AI to make better, data-informed decisions and produce/summarize documents and other forms of content more quickly.

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