There has been a lot of talk recently about Artificial Intelligence (AI) sweeping into the mainstream. The public release of OpenAI’s ChatGPT late last year has businesses, schools, consumers, and creatives scratching their heads with fascination, curiosity, and even some fear. While AI has existed behind the scenes for quite some time, ChatGPT is the first fully visible and tangible example of what sophisticated computerized learning combined with an unimaginable amount of data can bring to our modern world.
Before I get too prophetic, let’s explore what ChatGPT is and what it does. It is a Large Language Model that analyzes an unimaginable amount of digital written information, essentially every book ever written, and uses this dataset combined with a conversation interface. The chat interface is what makes this so visible, as it is able to take complex questions or requests, and return a detailed answer or response. The chat is so dynamic, it can write song lyrics, write essays in the style of a requested author, and write computer code, in addition to answering complex questions. One of the most famous examples is asking it to write a scene from the television show Seinfeld, about a math concept, and ChatGPT returned a detailed script organized by character and lines.
Sorting Out Complexity
So how can we apply ChatGPT to our businesses, or even more importantly, what is the potential effect of AI on our industry? Construction accounting guru, Judith Miller has been quoted as saying, “I love remodeling accounting because it is so complicated that I don’t think I’ll ever get bored. There are so many variables that can change almost instantly.” What we do in home remodeling is extremely complex with an infinite number of variables. Our financial books are where we see these massive fluctuations, but they are happening as a result of even more variables in the field. Anywhere we can find tools or processes to control variables or predict results and simplify what we need to on a daily basis is beneficial to our businesses and well-being.
As a concrete exercise, take a step back and take a look at your desk. If you’re like me, there are wires, pens, paper, bills to pay, unused gift cards, papers to file, and just a bunch of other stuff. What if some “thing” could magically read my mind and organize everything on a daily basis for me? This machine would know where I like to have my keyboard, it could check to make sure the microphone and camera are in the right location and operating properly, put my stapler away, and prepare bills to pay that need to be dealt with today. The window blinds then automatically adjust for proper lighting during my next zoom, and my music turns off when it’s time to have my next call.
Here’s the thing though: It’s not magical mind-reading. It’s simply machine learning or AI. A computer is able to use historical data tracked through my daily habits to identify patterns and analyze those with future potentials and current sensed conditions that could be based on my calendar, weather, blood pressure, sleep patterns, and whatever else could be relevant. This AI system is supporting me, helping me enjoy my day more and be more productive. If you have smart watch, you likely see glimpses of this lifestyle every time it recommends deep breathing or standing up.
While this is a just a simple office example, the possibilities are also there for gaining efficiencies in the field as well as in design.
Field and Office Efficiencies
By analyzing patterns, current and future conditions, much of the mundane can be removed from our lives leaving more room for joy and craft. Three-dimensional cameras on a job site could check progress on the number of studs installed and their locations and then subsequently cross reference against construction documents to verify accuracy and alert you to any potential future conflicts. The most efficient plumbing runs could be analyzed and presented in real time. Material orders could be coordinated with tracked progress, and schedules can be updated and communicated with the team and client.
In the design office, designs and construction documents could be checked or even shaped by municipal requirements such as zoning, building code, environmental factors, court cases, or even political conditions. Client behavioral patterns can be analyzed to better support design programming, and communications can be automated in a schedule, style, and vernacular that makes them comfortable and properly informed.
I could go on and on about potential scenarios of this type of technology in our industry, but simply put AI has the power to analyze scenarios, predict outcomes, and then offer quality solutions. In an industry with so many variables, I cannot imagine how this would not be a benefit.
Remodelers Won't Become Obsolete (Just the Opposite)
The fear of this type of technology and progress often comes in to play: We worry it might render certain human skills and job roles obsolete. However, I think it is fair to say that, over the course of time, tasks have always been replaced with tools to make the work more efficient, and that new more specialized jobs come to light as a result. For example, at some point in time, one professional backhoe operator took the place of a dozen hard-working hole digging humans. But now the backhoe needs to be transported and maintained creating the need for CDL truck drivers, mechanics, and machinists. New skills need to be learned, and new problems need to be solved.
None of this progress happens overnight, it takes time, and the companies and leaders that survive or even thrive are the ones that study the progress, understand it, implement it, leverage it, and build upon it. In the words of technologist and digital designer, John Maeda, “Technologies make possibilities. Design makes Solutions. Art makes questions. Leadership makes action.” Use your human craft and wisdom to ask the questions and propose solutions, and then lead by implementing the tools to make it happen and make your company and life more efficient and enjoyable.