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News & opinion

6 FEB 2019

Using AI to manage construction projects

Artificial intelligence offers easy access to swathes of data and the ability to troubleshoot before issues arise, says Leslie Lindgren.

Back in 2011, a contestant called Watson won $1m on the US television game show Jeopardy. Watson, however, wasn’t a human, but an artificial intelligence (AI) system created by IBM. It was a groundbreaking moment in AI development – and that was just for a TV show. Imagine the potential if we apply it to complex environments, such as healthcare or construction.

The power of AI systems first came to our attention at Fluor when we saw how IBM experimented with AI in healthcare. At a normal initial appointment, a doctor performs a range of tests on the patient’s “pinchpoints”: blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, blood tests. Based on certain alarms that might be raised by the results, the doctors can then go deeper into what specialist treatment might be needed. Watson was able to do a “deep dive” into medical records, global journals and healthcare data to augment and improve the diagnosis process. It was remarkable, and got us thinking: why not apply the same procedure to construction projects?

AI is now so advanced we can use it to rapidly analyse mountains of historical data to give us a better insight into our projects. Large, capital developments are complex, with vast amounts of moving parts. They need to be understood to stay on schedule and budget.

Construction site
Complex, capital developments need to be understood in great detail to stay on schedule and budget

Developed with IBM, EPC Project Health Diagnostics (EPCPHD) – the system Fluor is testing – analyses trends in construction projects to predict issues that might appear, and it can also identify the impact of changes in the decision-making process, such as estimate analyses, forecast evaluations and project risk assessments.

Processes such as EPCPHD are going to revolutionise the industry. An AI system can highlight the potential problems and bring advanced capability. Sometimes, the AI might help confirm an outcome that professionals already suspected, but it will give them hard facts corroborated from thousands of points of data.

These days, projects can be worth billions of dollars, all controlled by project directors who want their fingers on the pulse of everything that is happening. If contentious issues can be spotted early by AI, millions of dollars could be saved. It also allows us to simulate future projects.

I don’t believe there is a dramatic risk in turning more control over to AI. AI is not a replacement – all you’re doing is putting information in front of professionals in a faster, easier-to-consume way.

Read the RICS Insight Paper on Artificial Intelligence

  • Leslie Lindgren is vice-president of information management at Fluor.

This article was originally published in The Public Space Issue of Modus magazine (February 2019).