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Will Architects and Engineers be Replaced by Robots?

Could Technological Advancements Make Your Job Obsolete?

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It’s not uncommon for people to think they may be replaced by a robot in the workplace. After all, it’s happened plenty of times before. For example, the rise of the mechanical assembly line saw machines replace people in the early 20th century. With recent advances in artificial intelligence (A.I.), it’s entirely possible that more jobs are at risk. Even skilled workers, such as architects, programmers and engineers may be at risk. One day, an A.I. software developer may be able to do everything that a human programmer can do.

Recent reports have not abated this thought process. In fact, the 2016 Economic Report of the President seemed to suggest that artificial intelligence is playing an increasingly important role in the engineering industry.

Just think about the software you use in your work. Many software packages can handle a lot of the complex calculations for you. Yes, this cuts down on the amount of work you do. However, this automation may also present a threat to your job. What if the future sees these same software packages handling data input, as well as processing.

It’s a sobering thought, but does it have any merit? It’s an interesting question, so let’s explore the details in more depth.

 

Are Architects and Engineers Replacing Themselves?

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Automation is important. The use of artificial intelligence, alongside various other technologies, has always improved production. More work gets done, which means that businesses make more money. Architects and engineers constantly look for ways to speed up their work. The desire for automation has informed many recent software innovations. Furthermore, project methodologies, like Building Information Modelling, place automation at the fore.

That’s great for speed and efficiency, but what does it mean for architects and engineers? History has shown that automation has a very human effect. People lose their jobs because machines can do them faster. Just think of it from a business viewpoint. Do you want to pay 10 employees, or invest in one machine? More often than not, the machine will cost less than the employees, even if you factor maintenance into the equation.

It’s a simplification, but not an invalid one. Businesses make these sorts of decisions all the time. By pushing for automation, architects and engineers may be slowly working themselves out of their own jobs.

 

The Potential for Disruption

Several studies have also suggested that artificial intelligence may cause job losses. One recent example comes from the University of Oxford. The study found that over 700 types of jobs are at risk of technological disruption. All told, this means that about 47% percent of jobs are at risk because of artificial intelligence. That is a huge amount of people who may find themselves obsolete due to advancing technology.

The same study also mentioned a concept called the “technological bottleneck”. The researchers used this to determine how “at risk” a job was of displacement. The bottleneck takes three factors into account:

  • How much creative intelligence the role needs
  • If manual manipulation and perception is required
  • The role of social intelligence in the role

If a role requires a high degree of any of those three things, it’s less likely that it’s at risk from artificial intelligence. Architects and engineers are a good example. These professionals require a great deal of creative intelligence. Artificial intelligence and robots may not be able to emulate that creative intelligence. As a result, it’s unlikely that architects and engineers need to worry about losing their jobs. Right now, at least.

The study concluded with a cautionary note. It said that just because automation enhances an architect and engineer’s work right now, it doesn’t mean that automation won’t replace that role in the future.

So is artificial intelligence worth it? To answer that question, let’s look A.I. in more detail.

 

The Good and the Bad of Artificial Intelligence

If artificial intelligence presents such a threat to jobs, why keep developing it?

That’s a good question. The obvious answer is that there must be some good attached to artificial intelligence. Whether this good outweighs the bad is up to the observer. Let’s look at each side of the argument.

The Good

Artificial intelligence allows us to do all of the following:

  • The completion of mundane tasks that would otherwise take a lot of labour hours. Automating such tasks frees up skilled workers to work on more important tasks.
  • A.I. is not as prone to making errors as a person. As long as the A.I.’s programming is good enough, you should find that calculating errors and similar issues become problems of the past.
  • Speed is a key feature of artificial intelligence. Huge datasets no longer provide any problems to businesses, as automation allows for much faster processing. This means that a business can spend money elsewhere.
  • The most complex A.I.s reduce the amount of risk attached to the decision-making process. The “Curiosity” Mars rover is a good example. It’s programmed to choose the best course of action depending on its position. This would usually be a tough decision for a human to make.

The Bad

It’s not all good, unfortunately. The following are some of the bad points of artificial intelligence:

  • The previously mentioned job losses can cause all sorts of problems for staff morale.
  • Some believe that artificial intelligence gets rid of the human element. The nightmare scenarios in films like “The Terminator” may seem far-flung, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a risk in letting machines make all the decisions.
  • A.I. relies on pre-existing knowledge, which means it lacks creativity. Attempting to use it for creative endeavours may result in failure.
  • Algorithms may not be able to make judgement calls in disaster situations. Again, the A.I. may not take the human element into account, no matter what’s actually happening on the ground.

 

The Argument against A.I. Replacing Architects and Engineers

So that covers the good and the bad of artificial intelligence. So we come back to our central question. Will architects and engineers be replaced by robots?

It’s a horror scenario, but it’s also very unlikely. Here are just a few of the reasons why.

A.I. Stimulates Demand

The fears that increasing reliance on A.I. will lower demand for architects and engineers’ services appears to be unfounded. If anything, it appears more likely that A.I. will increase demand.

Some reports suggest that over 21 billion devices will connect to one another by 2020. That doesn’t stifle opportunity. If anything it creates, even more, demand for talented staff. A.I. can’t do the job alone.

 

People Management

What do you think would be the reaction to a robot attempting to manage people? It’s likely that a lot of people won’t take to kindly to artificial intelligence telling them what to do.

Many underestimate the importance of people skills in the architecture and engineering profession. Architects and engineers must be able to organise workloads and manage individuals. Yes, an A.I. device could handle the former. Scheduling is a task that many already automate.

However, A.I. will fall down when it comes to the human relationships that are so vital in a team environment. An A.I. won’t understand when somebody is demotivated, or why. It won’t make allowances for the human issues that affect every problem.

This makes skilled team members even more valuable. As A.I. takes an increasing role in the workplace, the need for people management will become more important. Architects and engineers with those skills may even find they make more money to employ them.

 

A Computer Isn’t a Brain

It’s easy to refer to the brain as a human computer. It’s also easy to refer to a computer as a mechanical brain. However, neither description is particularly accurate. Brains and computers are two very different things.

Computers process information. They can take the data you input and create plans of action based on that information. They may even learn from those actions to make adjustments later on. However, computers don’t experience the results of those actions. This comes back to the human issue we mentioned earlier. Just because something makes sense to an artificial intelligence device, doesn’t mean it would make sense in the real world.

Your brain is different. Yes, it can absorb information and come to conclusions, just like a computer does. But it’s also influenced by your senses. What you can see and touch are things that influence the decisions you make. This is something a computer cannot do. An algorithm could calculate a response, but a person can make judgements based on more than the basic data.

Let’s look at an example. You’re playing baseball and the ball gets hit in your direction. If you were an A.I.device, you would go into processing mode. Your systems would make dozens of calculations that would determine the path of the ball. Height, speed, and wind would all play a part in these calculations. The results would determine where you go to catch the ball.

However, you don’t actually function like that. In fact, how you react to the ball is much simpler and instinctive. You see the ball and surrounding landmarks. Using these visual stimuli, you can continually react to the ball, rather than trying to predict its movements based on calculations. You don’t need any calculations. In fact, the lack of calculations further enables you to react if something unexpected happens.

 

It Makes Your Job Easier

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Artificial intelligence doesn’t necessarily have to replace you. In fact, it may well stick to the role it’s in right now. A.I. makes your job easier because of the benefits mentioned earlier in this article.

A.I. can prepare an architect or engineer’s data. It can help the manufacturing engineer optimise the layout of a production facility. It can help the mechanical engineer generate parts.

All of these things make an engineer’s job easier, but that doesn’t mean the artificial intelligence will replace the engineer. In this context, you can think of A.I. as a tool. Why not use it to your benefit so you can focus on other tasks?

 

Humans are Innovators

Computers don’t come up with innovations. People do. Even the computer itself is a human innovation.

This is an important point to remember when discussing the role of artificial intelligence in the modern workplace. A.I. facilitates the idea. It makes the idea possible. However, it doesn’t come up with the idea in the first place.

That’s an area where A.I. can’t excel. Yes, A.I. may lead to some job losses in more repetitive areas of the architecture and engineering sector. However, the design and maintenance of these A.I. is a human endeavour. What we lose in one area, we gain in another.

 

Conclusion

It’s difficult to truly predict the effect that A.I. will have on architecture and engineering jobs. On one hand, you can make the argument that it will lead to job losses. Increased automation means less work for humans. Many businesses will see this and cut the least essential people in their teams if a machine can do their job instead.

However, the artificial intelligence itself cannot exist without the ingenuity of the people that created it. A.I. needs maintenance and updates, otherwise, it becomes outdated in its own time.

In essence, the shift towards A.I. is similar to shifts we have seen in the past. People constantly strive to make their jobs easier, which has led to practically every innovation under the sun. Since ancient times, the great thinkers have come up with tools and machines that can do things that people can’t. A.I. is no different.

In the end, the shift towards A.I. changes the working landscape. However, it doesn’t have to mean that it causes job losses. As with any new technology, it’s likely that A.I. will create just as many jobs as it displaces.

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Posted on 10 Dec 2018



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