Will Quantity Surveyors Be Replaced By Artificial Intelligence?

The rise of AI is the great story of our time. Those who have delved online to ask “Will a robot take my job?” might take comfort that design and construction professions such as architects, quantity surveyors or construction managers are low down on the list of professions likely to be replaced by machines. But with ever evolving progress, will our jobs be safe for the long haul.

In this post, we will try and understand first what AI is, secondly what quantity surveying tasks can be taken over by AI and finally, the likelihood of our jobs becoming utterly redundant.

Back in the 1950s, the fathers of the field, Minsky and McCarthy, described artificial intelligence as any task performed by a machine that would have previously been considered to require human intelligence. That’s obviously a fairly broad definition, which is why you will sometimes see arguments over whether something is truly AI or not.

Modern definitions of what it means to create intelligence are more specific. Francois Chollet, AI researcher at Google has said, intelligence is tied to a system’s ability to adapt and improvise in a new environment, to generalise its knowledge and apply it to unfamiliar scenarios.

“Intelligence is the efficiency with which you acquire new skills at tasks you didn’t previously prepare for,” he said.

“Intelligence is not skill itself, it’s not what you can do, it’s how well and how efficiently you can learn new things.”

Now we have the definition, has our profession changed due to the advent of computers? Well the short answer is yes

In the past 50 years our profession has progressed at a rate that would have been unimaginable. Back in 1971, you could hear the loud click of the blotter that would slowly be printing one A0 drawing while a QS or team of QS’s would be armed with scale rulers measuring off the drawing. They would then scribble their dimensions onto take off paper for the secretary to type up on her typewriter.

Fast forward 50 years and the comparison is astounding. Computers in the place of typewriters, the room dominated by surveyors rather than secretaries and younger members of the office unsure what a scale ruler is actually used for.

With the introduction of desktop computers, QS’s have remained essential while secretaries have been replaced. The question is, will we be replaced with the advent of AI?

This is where we can breathe a little sigh of relief but not get off totally scott free.

At present, we perform roles such as preparing bill of quantities, raising compensation events or variations and final accounting works. The creation and compiling of these documents can and will most likely be automated. An intelligent computer will be able to take off all the relevant quantities and prepare a bill of quantities from the design in less time and with next to no errors. We as quantity surveyors simply can’t compete with those types of tasks.

But, our jobs will remain relevant and will remain important and here’s why. A lot of our job is human focussed.

Extracting value from a project in the planning phase requires a lot of communication and co-ordination between a quantity surveyor and the other consultants who work at design and delivery.

Assisting a client to pick the best valued tender from a group requires excellent negotiation skills.

Developing a high-level cost plan based on only 25% of the documentation requires a QS to not only understand the project with limited information but to reach out to the client and subcontractor to find out what they want and how we can assist.

Like we said, before a lot of our role is human based. This includes having good communication, negotiation, advising and relationship building skills.

Do we think AI will affect our role as quantity surveyors? Yes, we believe it will. Will it replace the role of a quantity surveyors? No, we don’t think that will happen.

Why not watch our video on this topic?

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