Will I lose my construction job to AI?

Written by CD, updated May 10 2019 in accordance with our editorial policy.

If you talk to your customers, you are less likely to lose your job to artificial intelligence. For all the development in chat bots and language processing, a computer still struggles to interpret customer requirements, understand their issues, and deliver work that meets their needs.

What is AI?

Artificial intelligence is a broad term used as a catchall for describing when machines learn, make decisions, process language and vision, or make undertake other similarly complex tasks. Machines can be designed and programmed to identify or discover patterns, and then match new objects to those patterns. The machine can alter its record of patterns as it sees new input, and the patterns may not make sense to a human. This is AI, but is it really intelligence?

A big black box sits in a room with a Chinese man sat in front of it. The man feeds the computer questions written with Chinese characters and the black box responds with Chinese characters. Due to the quality of the answers the man is convinced it is another Chinese man sat inside the box. He is wrong, it is a computer with AI powerful enough to respond in natural language.

The big black box is replaced with another. This time there is a man inside the box, but the man doesn’t know any Chinese. The Chinese man feeds in more questions. Inside the box, the other man follows the program developed by the AI black box and returns a set of Chinese characters. Again the Chinese man is convinced it is another man inside the box. The man reveals himself, but also reveals he does not understand Chinese in the slightest.

What is comprehension; what is understanding.

“Hey Siri, build my patio”

How do you build a patio? You need to decide on the look and feel, plan the right materials to use, and then start building. If you decide on a small change to the look, it’s not too hard to build it with this small change. Maybe when buying the wood, you see a nicer type that would suit your backyard better. The flexibility and whims of people cannot be solved by machines; if you hire someone to build your patio (or you do it yourself), you have all this flexibility that Artificial Intelligence will struggle with.

My father bought a CNC machine for a hobby, his plan was to make a set of train tracks for the newest member of the family. Having never worked with CAD tools before, he spent hours figuring out the drawings and designs that would be fed into the machine to cut the wood. A lot of reading of forums, and playing with CAD tools later, he finally managed to adapt the drawings he found on the internet for his project. The little one was very happy with the end result. A machine however, built with Artificial Intelligence, could have collected all the drawings from the internet, figured out how to interface with the CNC machine, and automated this entire project. Not much fun as a hobby, but if you’re in a factory cutting hundreds of pieces of wood a day, AI could do it faster and better.

Will I still have a job if artificial intelligence can do all this?

If you talk to your customers as part of your work, you will still have a job in a world of artificial intelligence. If you talk to your customers about their designs, their preferences, their construction, or how they would like something to look, you will still have a job. One day the world may have artificial intelligence that can understand the nuance of understanding human requirements, this will not be in our lifetime.

If you sit at a computer and interpret the requirements of another person to produce drawings or further requirements, you will still have a job in a world of artificial intelligence. Machines have trouble understanding humans, there are too many patterns for them to learn.

If you get your hands dirty at work, you will still have a job in a world of artificial intelligence. The tools you use to do your job will get smarter and easier to use, but they will still need a human to operate. It might mean less dirty work, but someone still has to be there, directing the machines.