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Artificial intelligence: 5 legal issues for construction

Barry Hembling

Artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles are on the rise, but what are the legal issues contractors should be aware of? Fladgate partner Barry Hembling explains.

Construction has often been at the forefront of innovation in terms of its final product, yet as an industry it has been slower to adopt new technologies.

Thankfully there are signs that the sector is rising to the innovation challenge.

As it does so, consideration should be given to some of the legal issues arising from the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomous vehicles on sites.

AI: integral to construction?

There is currently a lack of legislation governing the use and development of AI and autonomous vehicles although, this can be expected in due course.

As for existing construction legislation, the activities of AI or autonomous vehicle suppliers could well become integral, preparatory or necessary for the carrying out of construction activities.

This means those providing AI or autonomous vehicles for use on projects could fall within the relevant provisions in the Construction Act so they benefit from the various rights available under statute.

Procurement shake-up

The use of AI and autonomous vehicles will require a new approach to contract drafting.

Unfortunately, many pre-existing contract models burden contractors with a disproportionate risk allocation, so there is little incentive to introduce untested processes and technologies.

Lead and direction from those procuring works will be required in order to foster innovation on projects. This could involve the adoption of key performance indicators and pain/gain mechanisms to encourage innovation.

Rethinking contracts

Construction contracts will also require more detailed provisions to respond to the challenge of AI and autonomous vehicles on sites.

Drafting will be necessary to cover issues such as: the use and ownership of the underlying technology; copyright-related issues and licences; ongoing technological support; timescale for defects resolution; and ownership of innovations developed during the course of a project.

Data protection concerns

Data protection issues must be addressed as the latest technologies enter mainstream construction.

Autonomous vehicles have the capacity to store, aggregate and combine data, which could in due course reduce time spent on research and planning.

Such data could revolutionise the way in which projects are planned and executed, but at the same time it raises concerns about data protection – particularly as the new General Data Protection Regulation comes into force.

One solution could be to autonomise the data so that any information collected is industry-specific, rather than bespoke for different projects.

Beware: cyber-crime

Cyber-crime issues also require consideration.

As with all software systems, the possibility of cyber-infringement is a hazard that must be addressed. Particular focus must be given to cyber-security to safeguard against the risk of autonomous vehicles being overridden. 

Despite these various considerations, there is no doubt AI and autonomous vehicles could herald the transformation that the construction industry has been looking for, potentially leading to safer, more productive, more environmentally friendly projects.

Although new technologies create a new set of legal challenges, such risks can be managed by taking legal professional advice and through more forethought and planning.

Barry Hembling is a partner in the construction and engineering team at Fladgate

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