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Industry experts talk AI: Rene Morkos on the uptake of AI in construction

Written by LetsBuild

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We recently hosted on our blog Oliver Hughes, co-Founder and Director of Digital Construction Week,  who referred to the great potential of Artificial Intelligence in construction.
This time we meet Rene Morkos, CEO at Alice Technologies. Rene was very kind to answer our questions and share his thoughts on the uptake of AI in the construction industry.
Rene Morkos Alice Technologies
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Without any delay, find below the entire interview:

What is your favourite book?

I’m going to say Lord of the Rings for non-business and Victor Gray for my favourite business book.

What is your favourite film?

It has to be Good Will Hunting.

Where and how do you work best?

3:30AM, listening to Crystal Method on full-blast in earphones.

Should construction care about AI?

Yes, for a lot of reasons. Right after agriculture, construction productivity has remained the same. So, the dollar per hour worked has been the same for the last 30 or 40 years, whereas every other single industry in the world—including agriculture—increased.  AI was designed to massively boost productivity.
But here’s an even simpler answer: it’s actually happening. They’re using it out there, they’re working, AI is being employed now. So, it’s not really a question of “if”. It’s the question of “when”. That “when” has begun and is going to be fully realized over the next 5 years.

Read also: Colin Smith on why construction should care about AI

It’s going to make our lives and jobs a lot easier and a lot more fun. I think that’s the most important reason. I mean, for our product, ALICE, our customers are no longer focusing on creating line after line of gantt charts and finding a way to link them. They’re focusing on asking the system questions about the optimal way to built and exploring tons of different construction scenarios in just minutes, which is a heck of a lot more fun. You actually get to interact with this intelligent model and insert things and run, and it automatically builds things for you and gives you a massive cost and project duration savings.

Is the construction industry ready to apply AI?

Oh, absolutely. I mean, our clients are doing it and using it to build smarter and win more bids.

Are there areas more susceptible to AI now?

I think—with everything. In my mind, the lower the barrier of the entry, the easier it is to implement. But, usually the less benefit you get. So, using something like a tool that rapidly switches the version of the PDF you’re looking at based on the latest version, or maybe automatically applies the specs to the thing that you’re looking at. Sure, that’s easier to implement, but it also gives you less benefit.
I guess the question you’re asking is, “Is there anything where that cost to implement versus the benefit is seemingly lower than something else in the construction industry?” I really think it would be the planning process. There’s a whole bunch of other applications that require hardware, robotics.
Drones, robotics to basically build bricks or build drywall or tape drywall and stuff. You know, I personally think that stuff is higher-hanging fruit than, you know, running something in computers virtually. So, I think the software simulation stuff is the lower-hanging fruit, which is kind of why we went for it.

In 5-10 years what could AI do for AEC?

After 10 years? I think something that’s happening is that the industry is getting digitized. So, there’s a digital representation for everything in construction that’s happening.
So, you guys are digitally representing, you know, actual feedback from sites. You’re visually representing the communication that happens on site. We’re digitally representing the rules that govern the construction project and how the project can be built in lots and lots of different ways.
For ALICE one of the big deals, I think, is that for the first time, there’s a platform that understands construction, “What is a crane? What’s overtime? What’s fast-drying concrete? What’s faster procurement? What’s pre-fabrication?” You can tell the software any one of these things, and it will actually understand this and incorporate that information to find ways to optimize your build.
Digitization is happening across the industry. There are lots of companies that are slowly working on it, but that doesn’t change the fact that there’s still a real representation. So, what I think is going to happen is that you’re going to start seeing the merging of those two kind-of realities. The digital one and the actual one.
Industry experts talk AI
That merging is going to become really interesting because the more it merges, the bigger the efficiencies you get. Because, you know, you’ll have merging that will happen with the digital sort of simulation; the actual reality of where the bricks are. But, then you’re going to start connecting it to the factories, to the logistics, to the supply chains, to—you know—all of that kind of stuff. I think that the efficiencies are going to be off the charts. I really think that timeline for that is maybe sort of 10-15 years? You’re not 5 to 10, 10 to 15, but I think there’s a lot of complex things in those 4 or 5 sentences.

Find here: Artificial intelligence – The future of construction

What’s going to happen, in my mind, is the digitization of the construction process. The merging of the digitization of the actual process, which will then enable the further merging with the supply chain and the entities of the supply chain, which are the factories and the things that produce things.
Obviously, pre-fabrication is a big trend. You’re not going to prefab. a skyscraper and then drop it in place. But you’re still going to pre-fab pieces of it and maybe robots are going to install those prefab pieces.
There’s going to be an incredible amount of integration of the supply chain. It’s coming at us. I think there’s a new ecosystem that’s being built, and there are certain companies that are going to ride that wave.

What’s the best advice you ever received?

The best advice I ever got was if you need to get to from Point A to Point B in business, and let’s say it takes, I don’t know, 7 steps or 20 steps—or, in the case of Alice, probably like 2,000 steps—just focus on taking the next step as quickly as possible. Figure out how you’re going to go from 1 to 2, 2 to 3, 3 to 4, so on, and so forth. Just figure out how to get to the next one. Once you get to the next one, then figure out the next piece. I think that’s the best piece of advice I ever got.
Rene was interviewed by Gari Nickson. Gari is an expert in the application of artificial intelligence in construction. He’s an entrepreneur, co-founder of GenieBelt, and adviser to Contractor Freedom. Follow Gari on Twitter – @garinickson