A. These systems learn like humans, by generalizing examples, without the need for programming by ad hoc rules. That is why they can establish reliable predictions for complex scenarios that occur in the construction industry, both in operations and when a specific understanding of the market and the business is needed.
Machines can process situations previously unimaginable, and perform tasks, until recently reserved for humans, generating new capabilities for business.
Humans can dedicate themselves to what they do well— creativity and talent applied to construction and processes— but assisted by intelligent systems that multiply their output. Areas such as logistics, security, process control, efficiency in assembly by robots, construction by 3D printing, or machine learning applied to decentralized BIM, will be unrecognizable in a few years. Without a doubt, we’ve gotta be there!
Q. Instead of other new technologies, what is the added value of Predictive analytics, Machine Learning, and Big data in the construction industry?
A. These technologies based on data analysis and processing and Artificial Intelligence are highly adaptable to be combined with other disruptive methodologies.
When we think about the capabilities that drones and sensors allow in monitoring processes like concrete curing, or safety in a large construction sites, or in logistics process platforms in construction, or in international smart contracts with cryptocurrency, we must observe that behind it exists -or there will exist, an intelligent system that monitors 24x7x365 the mission and optimizes the activity. That is why I prefer to call them Cognitive technologies because they generate or use knowledge, as humans do.
When the data indicates some adverse scenario or risk, the system takes over -as does our brain- to provide solutions and alternatives for the responsible human person to choose the most valid and reasonable decision. If there are no humans, the system will decide as if it were human, after learning their behavior and style of decisions. Additionally, we can speak and interact with the machines to fulfill their purpose as we wish. This is not science fiction; this is happening now.
Q. Machine learning and Artificial Intelligence have reached many milestones in other industries. Why not in the construction industry?
A. The construction of a building or a infrastructures requires intense human interaction. A complex coordinated structure aimed at achieving a worthy objective. Therefore, the challenge is much more difficult than, for example, the design of an intelligent trading system for the stock market.
However, initiatives such as CEMEX Ventures suppose an extraordinary impulse of all these technologies, so that, in the immediate future, they become vertically integrated into CEMEX or generated new business models within the construction ecosystem. There are already dozens of successful applications that automate construction, waiting for someone to look at them to gain safety and efficiency. It is inevitable that this will happen.
Q. Is there any technology which can fit better than these two in the construction revolution?
A. I like to think of construction processes regarding a bio-mechanistic vision. It needs to collect reliable information -the senses, like sight and hearing: the sensors and drones; and to flow in a decentralized way -the nervous system: smart IT platforms and networks; and to operate with strength and endurance -bones, muscles, and tendons: 3D printing and robotics; but with control and security -the brain and the cerebellum: Artificial Intelligence. And the most important thing, with energy from “ATP,” in the form of a cryptocurrency environment.
Each of these activities involves a series of technologies that will completely transform the business model.
All are necessary, but I would highlight the “heart” of them: the set of decisions that innovates a big company like CEMEX and places it at the vanguard. Now that’s exciting!
Q. When do you think that machine learning will be totally implemented in the construction industry?
A. The processes of technological adoption are going to be much faster than people think. Innovation does not follow a linear path but, like the roots of a tree, has a fractal structure that dramatically shortens the time.
Ray Kurzweil, Director of Development at Google, and inspirer of many of these technologies are pretty sure that in less than ten years we will have a large number of smart vehicles rolling autonomously through our cities. Imagine the amounts of applications for the construction industry that will already have been applied successfully!
Q. These technologies have appeared in a couple of years, what is the next coming trend?
A. I would say that the public met them a couple of years ago, but these technologies have been around waiting for their moment for much longer. For example, much of the theoretical formulation of Deep Learning comes from 2006, waiting for the powerful Tensorflow algorithm to be released for free use on the distributed computing platform of Google Compute Engine.
No doubt the integration of biological structures together with structures made of new materials will set the trend. The machines will extend the current capabilities of the human and will allow to cure traumatic and nerve motor disabilities. It is what is called Singularity.
There are already, for example, prototypes of exoskeletons for the construction industry to equip humans with skills specific to science fiction. But the new possibilities will far surpass our imagination.
As for pure Cognitive technology, the next challenge is the paradigm called General Artificial Intelligence (GAI), which will allow a complete interaction with intelligent machines as if they were human, overcoming the famous Turing Test -not distinguish among humans and machines though verbal communication.
In a short time, the robots-domestic assistants who take care of our elders will cost the same as an economical car at present. They will learn perfectly to cook our grandmother’s stew and follow a complex pattern of behavior that we determine verbally.
Does anyone have any doubt about the vast opportunities for the construction industry with “all-purpose” GAI specialists, working on the site in a coordinated way 24 hours a day?
Q. What do you think that construction Industry must do for being in the top of the innovative industries?
A. It is obvious that initiatives like CEMEX Ventures are a must. However, the objective that you propose to me is achieved through the implementation of a Bottom-Up innovation paradigm in this type of technology that maps them with specific needs of the company.
According to the Bottom-Up scheme, the opportunities and ideas will come from staff (surely young) who have freedom, commitment, and intention, to think about how to improve the industry through new solutions, and that these are well received by an organization openminded enough to consider disruptive ideas, without being locked into their comfort zone.