Civil engineering is the sector of engineering that deals with roads, bridges, and other infrastructure projects. Civil engineering requires higher education and pays relatively well. As technology advances, however, can civil engineering be automated?
Certain parts of civil engineering can be automated, like running reports and creating designs, which automated systems can do faster than humans. However, civil engineering will likely never be fully automated since it requires some field work and a high degree of detail.
This article explains how automation and civil engineering can work together. I’ll explain why civil engineering can never be fully automated or overtaken by AI. Finally, I’ll go over how the closely-related construction industry can also benefit from automation and what the future of civil engineering looks like.
Automation and Civil Engineering
There are many ways in which we can automate civil engineering, and there are many benefits to how the industry can be automated. This section has the ways in which automation can help with civil engineering.
Consistency Among Projects
First, having automation in civil engineering will lead to more consistency among projects. Consistency is important for many reasons.
First, it can help the automated systems learn the jobs they have to do even faster and how to do them successfully. The AI, or artificial intelligence systems, will need to learn from all the data civil engineers give them. The more consistent the automated systems can be, the easier it will be for new AI systems to learn from them.
And it will also ensure that high safety standards are met. When an automated system scans for any possible safety issues, it can be more efficient and will know what to look for when the work it reviews is consistent. And, it will be easier for the civil engineers checking the work or the automated systems to spot the issues when the work they review has consistencies within them.
Furthermore, even when the same engineer is working on multiple projects or similar tasks, they may have some discrepancies in their work or designs. Having consistency within these tasks can add to the success rate of a project.
For example, if a civil engineer makes notes on a project, it will be easier for their coworkers and the AI systems who have to learn from them to follow the notes. Additionally, when systems are automated, it will be easier to repeat the steps and any lessons learned since they are consistent.
More Options for Designs and Reports
Another way in which we can automate civil engineering is through the designs and reports that civil engineers create. Not only can automated systems produce these faster, but they can also create more variations of the designs and reports in a shorter amount of time.
Instead of a civil engineer spending time deciding which design or report to create, then actually creating it, the automated system can just produce them all. Then the engineers, architects, and other workers on the project can spend their time reviewing them and choosing the best ones to use.
Completing Projects Faster
Automating some civil engineering tasks also helps make the projects go faster. Similar to the section above, where automated systems can produce designs and reports quickly, they can also complete their other tasks faster than the engineers once they are programmed.
When civil engineers are free to focus on other work, they can dive deeper into current projects and complete more tasks. It’s helpful that the industry is growing to have more civil engineers free to work on new projects, and it will help keep projects on track.
Automating the easy tasks benefits companies and clients in the field since they get better, higher-quality results. And civil engineers get to focus more of their time honing their skills, which leads to better job opportunities and higher pay.
Finally, automating parts of civil engineering can save money. Not only will fewer people be needed to work on each project, but the more time-consuming parts do not require as high of labor costs to complete them.
By allowing some parts of the civil engineering job to be automated, skilled people can prioritize the harder projects. Then, the automation software can save time by completing lower-level tasks.
After the initial costs of buying and testing the automation software, the cost of running the automation will be significantly cheaper than paying civil engineers. Civil engineers will still have jobs in the field. They will just be focusing their time on other, less minuscule, tasks. They will also continue to gain knowledge about automated systems and help them improve even more as the civil engineering field changes.
Why Civil Engineering Cannot Be Fully Automated
Even though there are many ways in which we can automate civil engineering, it will likely never end up being fully automated for various reasons.
Automated Systems Must Be Vigorously Tested and Verified
It would take a lot of testing and verifications to ensure that the automated systems behind the civil engineering design and work are safe. If even one thing went wrong in the automated system, it could ruin an entire project. Not only would this put the safety of the project at risk, but it would also be costly if the project were delayed or ruined.
For example, civil engineers work on parts of cities like bridges. If the work needed to build a bridge is all automated, and the automated system makes a mistake, it could endanger many people’s lives and cause a catastrophe.
It’s Difficult to Continuously Train Automated Systems
Another reason that civil engineering will likely never be fully automated is the amount of time it would take to train systems to do the work of a civil engineer. It would take a lot of patience, testing, and knowledge from engineers in different parts of the civil engineering field. This process would likely take decades before it would be complete.
And if civil engineering ever got close to being fully automated, people would not be motivated to go to school to become civil engineers. And, without civil engineers, no one would be around to complete and test the final automated civil engineering system, so it would never be a complete project.
Furthermore, the systems would need to be updated as technology changes and new projects are being worked on in civil engineering. But, again, it would not be possible without civil engineers to assist in this process.
Can Civil Engineers Be Replaced by AI?
Artificial intelligence, or AI, is the way in which civil engineering can be automated. Artificial intelligence uses data and algorithms to learn and improve its skills in the field it is learning. And there are some ways in which AI works in the civil engineering field already.
Artificial intelligence can assist civil engineers but can not fully replace them. The data in civil engineering is not consistent enough for AI to learn enough and fully replace civil engineers.
There are similarities between projects within the civil engineering field. For example, most urban civil engineers work on bridges, roads, and public transit systems. But these systems and infrastructure change between cities. So even if you had AI learn about the London Underground, it would be difficult for the AI to then create a system in a completely different city.
Furthermore, while AI can help civil engineering, keeping the systems up to date may be difficult, especially as we continue to have new information regarding the field. First, civil engineers would need to gather the data for the new infrastructure and projects, which requires them to understand it themselves. Then, they would have to provide the information to the AI system and wait for them to process the information.
Engineers and AI systems would have to repeat the process every time new information and projects are created, which is often in such a fast-growing industry. As we continue to add new technology and more sustainable infrastructure to our world, AI will have to work to process the information. We need to put the changes into data form, and by the time the AI understands that information, it will likely be outdated and changing again.
How Can Machine Learning Be Used in Construction
Civil engineering and construction go hand in hand. Similar to how civil engineers can use machine learning and automation to help them, the construction industry can use some automation too.
Workers can use machine learning in construction to operate machines, verify blueprints, and ensure safety measures are met. But, we could not fully automate construction either because of all the physical labor and changing conditions.
The biggest way in which we can automate construction is to verify safety and blueprints. Construction companies can have machines create blueprints for them, similar to how the reports and designs for civil engineers can be created with technology. Then, they have a lot more options for how to execute a project without having to spend much time creating blueprints.
The machines used in construction can also be automated. While this poses a safety threat if anything goes wrong, it can save the construction laborers some time on bigger projects so that they can focus on more detailed or harder parts of a project. You can still have someone supervise the automated construction vehicles to ensure nothing goes wrong.
But the construction industry, similar to civil engineering, could never fully rely on machine learning. You can automate some machines, but you still need people on each job site to do the physical labor. And, if something needs to be adjusted on site, which is not uncommon in the field, machines would have difficulty problem-solving and coming up with a reasonable solution.
The Future of Civil Engineers
Despite the increasing automation in civil engineering, the field continues to grow. Global Market Insights predicts that the civil engineering market will be worth twelve and a half trillion dollars by 2025. This increase is up from nine trillion dollars in 2019.
A lot of the increase predicted in the field comes from the continual increase in urban development. Not only is the demand for urbanization increasing, but so is the demand for sustainable urbanization as people grow more passionate about helping the environment.
Sustainable architecture and design is more expensive, and it also requires more experienced civil engineers. The engineers who work on green infrastructure projects specialize in this field and have likely been in it for a long time. So, these engineers are more in demand, and their pay is also higher thanks to their experience and knowledge.
The specialized knowledge required by these “green” civil engineers is another reason why it will be difficult to automate civil engineering. It is hard enough to train the automated systems in the basics of civil engineering and beyond, so adding special buildings and green projects on top of it would be more difficult.
However, suppose civil engineering can start to become automated. In that case, more human civil engineers can start to focus their time on specialized projects and start to expand their knowledge in the harder but more in-demand areas like sustainability.
Even with civil engineering becoming more automated, civil engineers will still have much to do in the non-automated areas of the industry and projects. If we automate the parts that we can, the actual engineers can focus their time on everything else. The combination of engineers and automated systems will allow the industry to grow more.
There are benefits to automating civil engineering, like saving time on basic tasks and having more design and report options faster. But it would take a long time to fully automate civil engineering if it would even be possible to make it completely automated.
Furthermore, it would be difficult to keep the automation software up to date and upgrade it as technology changes without any civil engineers to help. If AI replaced civil engineers, there wouldn’t be anyone to oversee the technological changes that need to take place.