Can Artificial Intelligence Replace Civil Engineers?

Civil engineers are responsible for planning, designing & supervising construction & maintenance of building structures & facilities. Learn how AI can be used as a complementary tool rather than a replacement.

Can Artificial Intelligence Replace Civil Engineers?

Due to the complexity and diversity of engineering functions, automation and artificial intelligence will never completely replace the engineers in our lives, as human experience and judgment are fundamental to the success of the projects we undertake. Civil engineers are responsible for planning, designing, and supervising the construction and maintenance of building structures and facilities, such as roads, railroads, airports, bridges, ports, canals, dams, irrigation projects, pipelines, power plants, and water and sewer systems. When it comes to autonomous vehicles, companies like Google and Tesla have invested billions of dollars in the last 20 years. However, driving is a complex task to automate because the system has to learn to account for a myriad of potential situations that do not conform to well-structured rules.

This is different from civil engineering because the rules are often not so clear. In addition, the work involves judgment, creativity and person-to-person coordination. Even though AI can help with some aspects of the job, it cannot make the necessary engineering decisions due to the ever-changing nature of civil engineering. Real design is only part of the process; there is also coating and project management.

Once onsite, a million changes take place and the engineer is not there to make sure that it is 100% compliant with the design but rather that it complies with the intention. My experience (not in civil engineering but in another engineering stream) is that AI can be used as a complementary tool but cannot replace human engineers. We use 30-year-old technology on a daily basis and advanced AI technology is more of a complementary tool than a human replacement. A recent study from Oxford University found that more than 700 types of jobs are at risk of technological disruption due to artificial intelligence.

However, architects and engineers require a lot of creative intelligence which AI and robots may not be able to emulate. As a result, these professionals are unlikely to have to worry about losing their jobs. The study concluded with a warning note that just because automation improves the work of an architect and engineer right now, it doesn't mean that automation won't replace that function in the future. So is artificial intelligence worth it? To answer that question, let's look at how AI can be used as a complementary tool rather than a replacement.