Editor’s Note: This story appears in the July/August issue of ARTBA’s Transportation Builder magazine.
Amber MacArthur is president of the digital media company AmberMac Media, Inc. (ambermac.com) and co-host of “The AI Effect” podcast. She is a tech-focused entrepreneur, bestselling author, blogger, keynote speaker, and TV/radio host. MacArthur is scheduled to address the ARTBA National Convention at 11 a.m., Monday, Sept. 23. .
ARTBA: Let’s start with the basics. How would you define: artificial intelligence? Robotics? Is robotics a subset of artificial intelligence? Machine intelligence?
MacArthur: Broadly speaking, artificial intelligence is the ability for a computer system or machine to learn and (eventually) think. Within the AI umbrella term, there is weak AI and strong AI.
A chatbot is an example of weak AI because it is simply simulating human behavior (a Facebook Messenger chatbot is programmed to interpret text and respond with simple answers). Strong AI would, when fully realized, act intelligently. In other words, in the future, it could include robots that are able to match or exceed human intelligence.
ARTBA: Which U.S. companies are leading the way in their use of artificial intelligence?
MacArthur: When it comes to leading the way in AI, a few US companies forging forward include Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. Using Microsoft, as one example, the software giant bought five AI start-ups in 2018. From chat bots to digital assistants, Microsoft offers AI services for consumers and businesses. They are also very active in the construction industry.
ARTBA: What are some of the ethical issues about using artificial intelligence?
MacArthur: There are several ethical issues in terms of the future of AI. The World Economic Forum outlines nine specific issues. To simplify their list, consider these three dilemmas: unemployment (automation will affect the future of work); inequality (hourly work will cease to be the standard); and security (AI warfare will include autonomous weapons).
ARTBA: Speaking specifically to the construction industry, how might artificial intelligence change the way transportation improvement projects are designed and built?
MacArthur: There are dozens of ways that AI will impact the construction industry. A few key areas include better systems for budgeting to keep large projects on track, including software to predict cost overruns, and improve productivity. In 2017, McKinsey found that construction companies will be able to boost productivity by as much as 50 percent thanks to the ability to do real-time analysis on job sites, and monitor workers and machines.
ARTBA: How might artificial intelligence affect the transportation construction workforce?
MacArthur: There is much evidence today that shows that robots and machines will be part of the future transportation construction workforce, including logistics, customer-relationships, management support, workflow automation, human resources and finance. Some jobs will be significantly affected, such as operating engineers, with elements of this work likely to be automated. But humans will continue to perform physical labor for the near future. In many cases, AI and other technology has the potential to make this work safer.
ARTBA: Conceptually speaking, how could artificial intelligence help improve safety on roads, bridges or transit systems?
MacArthur: Artificial intelligence technology promises to provide more data for cities and countries to better manage infrastructure such as bridges and roads. For example, more sensors monitoring these transportation systems can ensure that potential safety issues are detected and fixed without delay.
The most innovative AI technologies improving roads and bridges exist today in European countries. As one example, Microsoft built AI-powered drones to better monitor the Great Belt Bridge, a suspension bridge in Denmark. According to Microsoft, “the drones are used to fly around the bridge and capture thousands of pictures of the concrete structure – a method that’s far safer and faster than tasking a worker to dangle 200 meters above the surface to take pictures manually.”
ARTBA: When considering artificial intelligence, what issues do companies have to consider from a security perspective?
MacArthur: Security will continue to be a growing concern for construction businesses of all sizes. When companies start to rely on more data, there is always the risk of a data breach. This means that all businesses must ensure that privacy and security is a priority while optimizing new technologies such as artificial intelligence.
ARTBA: How can opportunities relating to artificial intelligence be monetized?
MacArthur: When you increase productivity, there are always opportunities to be more profitable. In other words, the best opportunity for construction businesses to leverage AI in the near future is to integrate new tools and technologies that allow for work to be done in a smarter, faster, and more data-driven manner.