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CN Briefing: Autodesk University; technology; virtual reality; artificial intelligence; generative design

“We’re here to make infrastructure great again.”

It took about two minutes for the first speaker I heard at this year’s Autodesk University to make a tongue-in-cheek reference to the new president-elect, with nervous laughter breaking out immediately.

It’s a really interesting time to be here in Las Vegas – but it’s actually nothing to do with the recent election.

AU (as regular attendees call it) brings together thousands of people from around the world to talk about technology and its impact on their businesses.

The theme of this year’s conference is especially relevant to construction: ‘The Future of Work.’

Autodesk chief technology officer Jeff Kowalski opened the conference yesterday by arguing that the convergence of three technologies – virtual reality, generative design (where you tell a computer what your goals are but not how to get there, allowing it to generate a range of design solutions) and artificial intelligence – is creating a massive opportunity for people to change the way they work.

All three of these things are beginning to affect construction and engineering.

But, he argued, technology is only half of the equation – people are still of vital importance.

Rather than being scared of technology, people should embrace it. The machines are not coming for us (a la Terminator) – they are coming for us (as seen in an automated beer delivery truck that came to fruition this year).

Autodesk CEO Carl Bass continued the theme, arguing that all companies need to experiment, regardless of size. But he also said the construction and engineering industries are the “most complicated” when it comes to implementing technology.

“Most of the challenges are not technological ones – the economic structure makes it hard,” he said.

“In venture capital, for example, people are comfortable having one great hit, two or three that are okay, and six dogs. Construction companies want to have no dogs, so risk mitigation becomes the defining force, which leads to conservative decision-making.

“I am seeing technology that solves the problem and trained people willing to use it – the only parts lagging behind are some of the conventions around the business.”

So the technology is ready and waiting – but the current mindset and business models with construction are what’s holding back its wider adoption.

It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to see the change coming that hasn’t happened to you yet.

But it’s vital that you try.

Keep innovating, embrace disruption – and you’re less likely to get left behind.

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