The question of upskilling, meanwhile, cuts right to the quick of fears around job viability. It is shortcut thinking to say a job won for AI is a human job lost; this is not a zero-sum equation. If the industry is able to fully absorb AI and upskill the workforce, the result will not be mass redundancies, but a generational shift in job profiles. Digital literacy training does not coach people into obsolescence, it actually increases their value in the labour market. And AI frees up resource by breezing through the clerical work that, for most people, amounts to something of a joyless slog. To borrow a slogan, AI loves the jobs you hate; algorithms don’t get bored by monotonous and repetitive processes; monotonous and repetitive processes are their bread and butter.
Yes, the World Economic Forum report cited above foretells of the demise of the retail cashier, along with scores of other occupations. But that only speaks a fraction of the whole truth. It goes on to say that, in the aggregate, jobs created by digitalisation will outnumber those lost by tens of millions. Digitalisation, automation and machine learning present an opportunity, not a threat.
So, it is increasingly affordable, it saves lives, time and money, happily does thankless tasks, and spreads opportunity across the labour force. Why, then, is AI yet to go mainstream in the construction sector? Well, at least some of the responsibility for that must lie with the tech sector. The challenge for ConTech solutions providers is to better explain the benefits and dispel the suspicions. We must work with senior leadership figures to spread digital awareness and nudge the entire industry ecosystem towards culture change. Digitalisation is inevitable; it has transformed manufacturing, energy, pharmaceuticals and healthcare, agriculture, and automotives. Only hubris or an extreme aversion to the facts could trick us into thinking construction will be the exception. The industry’s greatest asset is its people. The role of AI in a digitally enabled construction future is not to supplant them but to support them.