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ENR Features Fiatech Cognitive Computing Initiative

The Emergence of Construction's Cognitive Companion - Vicki Speed


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The simulation of human thought, otherwise known as cognitive computing, is taking on new life in the building and construction industry. IBM Watson Technology explains that cognitive systems can understand the world through sensing and interaction, reason using hypotheses and arguments, and learn from experts and through data. It’s a complex multiprocessing technology that is already used in healthcare, transportation and government sectors. Why not in construction?

With a cognitive solution, owners and project teams could provide data gathered from past mega projects to aid in design, construction and integrated project management. It could help facilitate a clear pathway through the regulatory maze of environmental, health, life safety and construction safety regulations. A cognitive companion tool might even track and report on new technology and system innovations with guidance on where such systems could be used.

John Voeller, retired senior vice president of Black & Veatch and industry visionary, says, “A cognitive companion that could provide insights from past projects throughout the construction industry would be of incredible value to owners, architects, EPCs, and building operation and maintenance personnel. Or perhaps it could provide insights about how to better meet cost and schedule targets, reduce the number of change orders or improve change-order management efficiency.” 

Fiatech, a group of capital facilities stakeholders dedicated to advancing technology and innovative practices in construction, has begun examining the value of cognitive computing in the building industry. It recently had Watson ingest the 60,000 U.S. city, county, state and federal building codes so that Watson could respond to questions from architects, engineers and constructors to ensure adherence, eliminate conflict, examine duplication and make design, engineering, specification and renewal activities more efficient.

Fiatech’s Senior Project Manager Bob Wible believes there are many ways cognitive computing can help the industry. He says, “Construction projects, especially mega-projects, are all highly complex efforts that involve dozens of companies, thousands of different types of construction materials and products, billions of dollars, and take between five and 10 years to move from concept to commissioning. In the past, it has been extremely difficult to gather lessons learned from similar or related projects, and there has been no way to coordinate the myriad of unrelated data points from past projects. We’ve had no way to identify potential early warning signs that a project may be in trouble with scheduling and cost over runs or systems. Cognitive computing can help.” 

Key in the development of cognitive and intelligent computing for construction are advancements such as Web 4.0 electronic intelligent agents.

Voeller says, “Intelligent agents will allow computing to move from largely reactive to proactive behavior because these agents can sense needs, understand the resources required and access them without human guidance. We will not be able to do any of the things currently being planned, such as the Internet of Things, to reduce the patchwork of technology infrastructure that we currently must manage without intelligent agents.” 

Intelligent computing is here—and 2016 could be the year of the cognitive companion in construction.  
- Vicki Speed


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