Concrete and artificial intelligence: the opportunities and threats

10th August 2023

By Matthew Butcher

With artificial intelligence (AI) firmly in the spotlight, the question remains: how can it benefit the construction industry and wider society?

In March, an open letter co-signed by tech billionaire Elon Musk and a number of prominent AI experts, called for a pause on the unprecedented speed of AI software developments and demanded implementing safeguards to mitigate the risks of an unregulated sector.

Whilst not without its critics, many are hailing AI as the catalyst for innovation and progress, with scope for productivity improvements.

A digital future for construction

Over the last decade, a digital revolution across the construction sector has continued to build momentum, leading to advancements in Building Information Modelling (BIM) and Modern Methods of Construction (MMC).

At the heart of both is data.  There is significant potential for AI systems to be able to utilise this data as a tool for further innovation. With every construction project soon to become a potential data source, there lies an opportunity for the industry, supply chain and its clients to analyse and benefit from the insights generated.

AI will provide the ability to advise designers and engineers on the best methods and materials to use on projects, and indicate the optimal structure for a given brief from a technical, economic and sustainability perspective.  

There is the potential to use AI to optimise concrete mixes, on a project-by-project basis, accounting for strength, application, carbon, material availability, cost and aesthetic. This could drive productivity as well as continue to drive low carbon decision making to deliver environmental outcomes.

The potential dangers of AI

The UK concrete and cement sector is part of a minerals industry which employees more than 80,000 people. It’s essential that jobs are protected and we use AI technology ethically and responsibly.

An AI step change in the approach to building design is not without its issues. One much publicised risk of AI systems is its ability to inadvertently perpetuate or amplify biases of data samples.

In construction there is the threat that this could lead to material biases bolstered by incorrect or incomplete datasets. It is imperative that the application of AI in construction is on the grounds of up-to-date, accurate data, especially in the realm of embodied carbon.

In a sector decarbonising as quickly as the UK concrete and cement industry it is vital that the latest data is used in sustainability assessments, be they carried out by human or machine.

Asking AI

In 2023, ChatGPT, created by OpenAI, was asked about the impact AI could have on construction and the UK concrete and cement industry, it wrote:

It's worth noting that while AI offers significant benefits, its adoption in the UK concrete and cement industry may pose challenges related to data privacy, ethics, and workforce displacement. However, with proper considerations and responsible implementation, AI has the potential to revolutionise the industry, making it more efficient, safe, and sustainable.