Embracing AI: The Path to Enhanced AEC Creativity and Efficiency
Artificial intelligence has only begun to profoundly affect productivity, the economy and society.

February 22, 2024

Embracing AI: The Path to Enhanced AEC Creativity and Efficiency

Join Haskell engineers in 'Demystifying AI' as Autodesk's Tristan Randall explores how technology is pushing the boundaries of the AEC industry.

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In his presentation “Demystifying Artificial Intelligence” (AI), Tristan Randall referred to the innovation truism that “disruptive technology underperforms … until it doesn’t.”  

He went on to say that with McKinsey & Company estimating that AI’s impact on productivity could add from $17 to $25 trillion in value to the global economy, it’s clear that it has crossed that virtual Rubicon. 

Randall, a Senior Projects Executive for Autodesk and an internationally recognized expert in emerging technology struck at the heart of the Engineering Week 2024 theme “Welcome to the Future” as he explained to more than 200 Haskell design professionals the characteristics of AI that explain its profound effects on business and how it can help those in the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) Industry welcome the future, too. 

Engineers Week 2024
Welcome to Engineers Week 2024! This year’s theme, “Welcome to the Future,” is about celebrating today’s achievements and paving the way for a brighter and more diverse future in engineering. Haskell is enthusiastically celebrating #EWeek2024 and our more than 160 engineers around the world and across the spectrum of disciplines. They are at the forefront of innovation and are instrumental in designing and creating the solutions that are shaping the world of tomorrow. 

AI has three fundamental characteristics that set it apart from other technologies in how they affect industries and society. 

  • Disruptive Innovation. From Clayton Christensen’s 1997 book, “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” this concept describes how a process begins under the radar (i.e., underperforming), then relentlessly moves upmarket, eventually displacing established competitors. A case in point: OpenAI’s ChatGPT, the most famous large language chatbot, added 100 million users just two months after its November 2022 release.
     
    “Every few years now, it seems like we experience new entrants to the market that establish dominance really against the entire market, and the industry is blindsided,” Randall said. “Whether it's Tesla versus traditional auto manufacturers or Uber versus the taxi business, Spotify versus record companies or Robinhood versus traditional investment banks. Of course, most recently, it’s Open AI versus pretty much everyone, and this company has affected industries directly, such as internet search, but it's also had far-reaching disruptions across journalism, marketing, copy editing, and many other domains. There is no doubt that AI is one of the disruptive technologies.” 
     
  • General Purpose Technologies. From Richard Lipsey’s “Economic Transformations: General Purpose Technologies and Long Term Economic Growth” comes the concept of advances that shape society. 
     
    “There have only been about 25 General Purpose Technologies in history, and about half of those could have come in the last 150 years,” Randall said. “These include things like the steam engine, electricity, the automobile, and most recently, transistors and the Internet. These technologies are unique in that they have broad, irreversible impacts on the economy. So, they lead to massive productivity growth across industries. And they spur a wave of recombinant innovations that really drive enormous economic value."
     
  • Paradigm Shift. Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” refers to the notion that scientific fields undergo periodic "paradigm shifts" rather than introducing approaches to understanding that were never considered valid. Randall said that in this case, AI was not so much a single paradigm shift as it was an enabler of many others.
     
    “Obviously, as professionals, we've been in a relationship with machines, but telling a computer what to do is hard,” he said. “One of the most interesting things about this change is the mode of that relationship, using conversation as an interface. The impact of this is enormous.” 
     

The future of work is in question. The World Economic Forum forecasts that machines will do more tasks than humans in major industries in the coming years. Randall said that while many fear this represents lost work, the optimistic picture is that humans and machines working together can unlock additional capacity. 

AI can alleviate the need for people to do tedious or repetitive tasks, freeing team members for more creative and interpersonal roles. For example, image generators can instantaneously create high-quality products to support experimentation with various architectural styles. 

“Employee development needs to be at the forefront of your AI strategy,” Randall said. “You need to be making sure that employees understand that your AI vision is one that’s focusing on developing skills and cultivating talent or rewarding innovation, not replacing workers with technology, whether that's AI-related or otherwise.” 

Coming advancements will enhance outcomes with generative design, streamline project management with predictive analytics and facilitate goals-based design with improved real-time simulation. This, Randall said, will allow more dynamic exploration of design alternatives and informed decision-making.  

Adapting to the present means employing currently available platforms and AI while strategizing and preparing for the future. 

  • Conduct thought experiments. Consider how business could be streamlined and overhead reduced if the right automation were available. Identify menial tasks that could be automated and ways to eliminate rework. “What would be the implications for the operating model for the services that you provide,” Randall told the group. “Those things are really important for designers to think about because they're the ones who day in and day out really see where the process gets gummed up. Understanding where there are potential automation and innovations would have a huge impact.” 

  • Cloud and platform. Collaboration, designs via Autodesk’s Revit, and model validation should be conducted in the cloud. “Cloud and platform has to be the mechanism for collaboration. That's what allows you to overlay all these tools, for example, AVT (Autodesk Validation Tool), which isn't an AI tool but is a tool that’s cloud-based and can run thousands of model checks in a matter of minutes.” 

  • Benchmark with existing data. Structuring and employing past project data for benchmarking will streamline designs and prevent duplication of effort. Structured data, Randall said, is a richer paradigm for analysis, even when AI-driven.  

Ultimately, as the AEC industry leverages AI for more and higher-level design and construction functions, each individual will need to determine how they fit in the process. 

“Work producing drawings and annotation and dimensioning … this is just overhead to get to that broader goal,” he said. “Have some consideration for where you can provide value and what types of skills you might need to develop, for example, more client-facing skills, more value-driven selling and business development that may allow you to move kind of more into a consulting capacity as many design tasks are automated.” 

Consistently maintaining a holistic and innovative approach to problem-solving means Haskell’s subject matter experts regularly take part in solutions-focused discussions across disciplines and industries. Contact our team to leverage that thought leadership on your next project. 

 

Haskell delivers $2± billion annually in Architecture, Engineering, Construction (AEC) and Consulting solutions to assure certainty of outcome for complex capital projects worldwide. Haskell is a global, fully integrated, single-source design-build and EPC firm with over 2,200 highly specialized, in-house design, construction and administrative professionals across industrial and commercial markets. With 20+ office locations around the globe, Haskell is a trusted partner for global and emerging clients.

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