Like EVERY other industry, construction is being or going to be automated. However in the case of construction, it is slow, may be one of the slowest, that the speed of this is happening. Why? Because of the number of real life variables that come into play in construction projects. Simply, it is HARDER for AI to manage construction, than, producing cars in an assembly line, or making diagnostics for a patient, or analysing stocks, or cleaning floors.
Think about a simple construction project of building a single story office building. It involves hundreds of real life variables. A delivery date of material (multiplied by all trades), quality of the material (multiplied by all trades), installation of the material correctly (multiplied by all trades), coordinating the people (or in 100 years, robots), that will do the installation, making the designs and coordinating these designs with other designs such as architectural to structural to mechanical to electrical, weather effects, unforeseen site conditions, access to construction site, access within the site coordinated with all trades, coordination with your neighbors around the site and many, many more… So, the number of variables for a construction project is far more greater in number and complexity than other industries that are already being automated to varying degrees. This is the reason why, it is taking more time for construction to be automated. It will be one of the last fields, to resist to ever increasing power of AI and automation.
However as I said in the beginning of my post, EVERY industry will be automated eventually, and even construction is not an exception. Why? Because given enough time, the amount of information in EVERYTHING approaches to 100%. Let me explain what does this mean…
Think about manufacturing a car 100 years ago. Your knowledge in building cars were low and you needed to spend lot of effort in doing it as you also learned how to better do it. So the most part of making a car, 100 years ago, was the effort, with little knowledge. Now think about 50 years ago. Your knowledge increased. You had to spend less effort, because you knew more. You had more information. The percentage of information in making that car increased. Now think about today. You have a lot of knowledge in making cars. Yes workers in factories still spend effort on some tasks, but to a great extent, making a car is now automated. The information % in it, is now even greater and effort keeps getting less and less. Now think about making a car 100 years from now. May be all you need to do is “make me a car with this and this characteristics” to a commercial 3d printer in one of the 3d printing stores on the street. And the car will be manufactured quickly. Now the information in it is almost 100%, with no effort spent. So as we can see from this example, the amount of information in everything converges to 100%, given enough time. It is just that for some fields, it takes less time, as it is less complicated, and for some fields, it takes more time, as it is more complicated. This is the only difference.
Having said all these, it doesnt mean that in construction no efficiencies or automation is happening. This is not true. Already we have seen many, many signs and improvements. Examples? When I started in construction industry almost 20 years ago, the project plans to contractors were distributed manually by mail. It was a lot of mailing and work. I still remember how those plans could cut your hand and cause it to bleed, if you try to sort them quickly. Now, everything is distributed online, in a much more efficient and organized way (you see, you only need to distribute the “information” of the plans now, and not the plans themselves). Another example, now we have software that we can layout everything in 3d, and this allows us to put everything together in a virtual environment, before it gets constructed so that you can identify potential conflicts or make your design to better reflect your intention. Another example are engineering software, like structural or geotechnical engineering software, that can make very complicated engineering analyses, once you model everything (so still humans are needed to model everything correctly (even for this part the AI is becoming more and more capable to advise or assist the engineers), but software can make the very complex calculations in only a fraction of the time and accurately). Another example, now you can inspect high structures with drones, instead of having to rent a helicopter or going near the problem areas one by one with a crane. Another example, now we have remotely operated small excavators, which do not need to have a person on it, and can operate in narrow environments effectively. Soon, as the robotics technologies improve, we will start to see robotic workers on sites, in increasing numbers and complexities each year. I would say that the field operation will be greatly automatized by robotic workers, in the next few decades, as the robots are now in the beginning stages of learning to work in undefined real environments. And when that time comes, when we have a lot of robotic workers on sites, that they exceed humans, the design and coordination part of construction, which is one of the last forts among jobs and industries that humanity will hold against AI, will also eventually fall and be automatized.
Bottom line, automation is inevitable, it is only a matter of time, based on the complexity of the industry and tasks in hand.