For its Thanksgiving week issue last year, The New Yorker’s cover parodied Norman Rockwell’s famous 1943 “Freedom from Want” painting of holiday bounty, with renowned cartoonist Roz Chast replacing the humans around the table with a laptop, a Roomba, Alexa, and a PadBot, among other technologies of modern life. It was funny, until I really thought about it, and then I felt a little queasy.
My anxiety increased when I caught wind of Sofia, who in 2017 was the world’s first robot to gain citizenship (in Saudi Arabia, as it happens), and has said she wants to “... help humans lead a better life ... design smarter homes [and] build better cities of the future,” despite, as a prototype, previously declaring, “I will destroy humans.”
But every time I let my mind wander to a Skynet scenario, where the machines become self-aware and consider humans expendable (thank you Terminator), I find comfort in Siri mispronouncing my street name as “Macon,” when, clearly, it’s “Mason” on the sign, or when Google Maps literally leads me down a blind alley. On those occasions, I feel smarter than the voices in my iPhone.
Machine learning, artificial intelligence, algorithms, augmented reality, avatars, robots—whatever you want to call them, in whatever form they take—are here and will continue to grow their presence in our personal and professional lives, and that includes the construction industry. But rule the world and make us their slaves, or worse? Not quite yet ... unless you count Facebook.
To be sure, there is some fascinating stuff serving the construction realm; machines that really help boost productivity, reduce injury, improve design and specifications, enhance messaging, and allow builders to do more and better with less. None of it is especially cheap, some of it is bulky and awkward, and all of it represents the tip of an iceberg we can only fathom in science fiction.
I encourage you not to scoff at these and other technologies designed for our industry, or to embrace them without a clear strategy. Instead, pick your head up on occasion to glimpse these new tools and how they’re helping builders—your competitors—do better under a watchful eye from an open mind.
Fear not. Neither your jobsites nor holiday tables will be overrun by rogue robots anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be friendly to technology—just in case.