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How to Use AI in Your Business: A/E Edition

From ChatGPT to Bard to Midjourney, Steven Burns, FAIA, walks you through how to use AI in your business to help you save time.

Alright, let's talk about AI in business. No, I'm not talking about the robot overlords who will one day rule the world. I'm talking about artificial intelligence - the technology that's changing the game for businesses everywhere by revolutionizing the way we live and work.  

But what exactly is AI? Well, simply put, it's a set of algorithms and programs that can perform tasks that would normally require human intelligence.  

From chatbots to self-driving cars, AI is all around us, and it's only going to get more advanced. However, rather than scratch your head over it or pass it off as something too advanced for your firm, instead learn how to use AI in your business to improve productivity, save money, and give you back time in your already busy day.  

Let AI be your partner, your newest, fastest, employee, rather than an unknown enemy. 

We’re going to discuss two very different aspects of AI in business in this article. First, we’ll talk about AI tools that utilize the written word or language. Next, we will talk about how AI impacts design and visualization. These nascent technologies are currently more of a curiosity but are poised to transform our lives in enormous and unimaginable ways. 

Using AI in Business 

So maybe you're a firm owner, and you're swamped with all the day-to-day tasks that come with running a company. You're answering emails, managing social media accounts, fighting writer’s block during a brainstorming session—all while dealing with project inquiries.  

Maybe you’re even trying to market your firm at the same time. (Which is a whole other time-consuming job on its own!) 

Or perhaps you’re a project manager that has to stop what you’re doing to work on some tedious task that’s taking far too long and holding you back on getting into the meat of your project.  

Whatever position you are in your firm, day-to-day tasks are overwhelming, that’s something we can all agree on.  

But what if I told you there was a way to automate all those mundane tasks and free up your time to focus on the big picture? 

We already use automation in tools for managing our firm operations, such as BQE CORE. If you’re using BQE CORE, you know how much time you’re saving already. Now, image if you could use AI automation in other areas of your firm? 

Try a free demo of the award-winning all-in-one firm management software: BQE CORE. 

AI in Business: Language 

I've always been fascinated by the power of language. Words can be used to create beauty, to communicate ideas, and to inspire action.  

In recent years, I've become increasingly interested in the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) to help architects, engineers, and other professional services use language more effectively. 

You probably have heard about Large Language Models (LLMs), which utilize a deep learning algorithm that can recognize, summarize, translate, predict, and generate text.  

By now, everyone reading this has probably toyed with one of the technologies that use LLMs: ChatGPT or Bard. If you’re like me, you were astonished by the speed at which these tools operate. 

I believe these technologies have the potential to revolutionize the way architects and engineers and other professional services work.  

Here are just a few of the ways they can help: 

Use AI to Generate Ideas 

One of the most challenging aspects of architecture and engineering is coming up with new ideas. AI can help by generating creative text formats of text content, like poems, code, scripts, musical pieces, emails, letters, etc.  

This can be a valuable tool for architects and engineers who are looking for new ways to approach their work. 

Use AI for Research 

AI can also be used to research information.  

For example, if you're working on a project that involves sustainable design, you can ask AI to research the latest trends in green building.  

AI can also be used to find information on specific topics, such as the history of architecture or the latest advances in engineering. 

AI business tools like ChatGPT can be a very powerful to help you with research and ideation by providing you with quick access to enormous amounts of information and insights rather than you having to spend large amounts of time searching and reading online.  

Use AI to Communicate 

AI can also be used to communicate with clients and colleagues.  

For example, you can use AI to write emails, proposals, and reports. AI can also be used to create presentations and marketing materials. How many times have you looked at the clock and realized you’ve spent far too long trying to compose the perfect email or draft copy for a great presentation? AI can do this for you in mere seconds. From there, you’ve got a perfect starting point that has saved you a lot of time.  

Use AI to Document 

AI can also be used to document projects.  

For example, you can use AI to create project plans, specifications, and drawings. AI can also be used to track progress and manage budgets. 

In addition to the benefits listed above, AI can also help architects and engineers to: 

  • Improve efficiency 
    AI can automate many of the tasks that architects and engineers currently do manually, such as research, writing, and documentation. This can free up time for architects and engineers to focus on more creative and strategic work. 

  • Reduce errors 
    AI is trained on massive datasets of text and code, which means that it’s less likely to make errors than humans. This can help to improve the quality of architectural and engineering projects. 

  • Increase collaboration 
    AI can be used to collaborate with clients, colleagues, and other stakeholders. This can help to improve communication and ensure that everyone is on the same page. 

The Difference Between ChatGPT and Bard 

ChatGPT-4 and Bard are both large language models (LLMs) that are trained on massive datasets of text and code.  

They can both generate text, translate languages, write different kinds of creative content, and answer your questions in an informative way. However, there are some key differences between the two models. 

One of the main differences is the training data.  

Bard is trained on a massive dataset of text and code that is constantly being updated. This means that Bard has access to the latest information and can provide more up-to-date answers to your questions.  

ChatGPT-4, on the other hand, is trained on a dataset of text and code that was collected in 2021. This means that ChatGPT-4 may not be able to provide as up-to-date information as Bard. 

Another difference is the architecture.  

Bard is built on top of Google's PaLM 2 language model, which is a newer and more powerful architecture than the one that ChatGPT-4 is built on. This means that Bard is able to generate more complex and creative text formats of text content, like poems, code, scripts, musical pieces, emails, letters, etc., than ChatGPT-4. 

Finally, Bard is still under development, while ChatGPT-4 is a more mature product. This means that Bard may not be as reliable or as accurate as ChatGPT-4. However, Bard is constantly being improved, and it’s likely that it will eventually surpass ChatGPT-4 in terms of reliability and accuracy. 

What to Expect in the Near Future for AI in Business 

If you speak to people working in the field of AI, you’ll hear a lot of scary things.  

Some are existential, and others are seemingly quant as they only deal with the possibility of having your career disappear.  

Take what you will from these conversations, however, advances in AI technology, like the GPT series, are projected to transform many fields, including architecture and engineering.  

Here are some of the key changes that professionals in these fields can expect to see in the next 3-5 years: 

Automated design and drafting: AI-driven software could automate parts of the design and drafting process, allowing architects and engineers to quickly generate a variety of design options based on specific input parameters. This could save time and facilitate more creative thinking, as professionals could focus on refining and selecting the best design, rather than creating each one from scratch. 

Machine Learning (ML) and AI in simulations: AI can help in creating more realistic and complex simulations. Whether it's predicting the structural stability of a building in various disaster scenarios, or modeling how people will move through a public space, ML algorithms can crunch large amounts of data and provide insights more efficiently than traditional methods. 

Generative Design: This is already being used in a few firms. AI-powered generative design tools can create numerous design solutions based on set constraints and goals, allowing architects and engineers to explore many more possibilities than human designers could manage alone. These tools can also improve over time, learning from previous designs to generate increasingly optimized solutions. 

AI in Project Management: AI can optimize project management tasks, like scheduling, budgeting, and risk management. Machine learning algorithms can identify patterns in historical data to predict potential delays, cost overruns, and other common project issues. This predictive capability can help teams to mitigate risks before they become problems. 

Internet of Things (IoT) Integration: With the rise of smart buildings, there will be a greater need for architects and engineers to incorporate IoT technology into their designs. AI can help to optimize these systems, from improving energy efficiency to enhancing occupant comfort and safety. 

Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR): These technologies are already being used for virtual walkthroughs of design projects. In the future, they could become even more integrated into the design process. For example, architects and engineers might use AR to overlay design plans onto a physical site, making it easier to visualize the finished project. 

Sustainability and Green Building Design: As sustainability becomes more important, AI can help architects and engineers to design more energy-efficient buildings. For example, machine learning algorithms could analyze historical and real-time data to optimize a building's energy use or generative design tools could be used to create designs that maximize natural light and ventilation. 

These advances will require architects and engineers to develop new skills and adapt to new ways of working. But while AI can automate certain tasks, it's unlikely to replace the creativity, critical thinking, and expert judgment that these professionals bring to their work. AI will be a tool that supports and enhances their capabilities, rather than a replacement. 

Speaking of creativity - let’s move on to my second topic. Design visualization. 

Design and Visualization 

As creative professionals, I’m sure many of you have been toying with some of the AI tools available such as DALL-E2, Midjourney, Cubism AI, Artbreeder, VQGAN+CLP, Dream.  

I have been using Midjourney on Discord for about 6 months to create imagery for presentations and blog articles. Recently, I decided to write a blog called “When the Seed of Creativity is Ceded to Artificial Intelligence”. This was an experiment to see what I might do as an architect with these tools when it comes to design. 

I’ll let you read that article and see for yourself what you might think about the designs that AI was creating. I’m sure some of you will be highly critical. They aren’t perfect. But they are inspiring. This is no different than using language AI to help inspire you. It’s not currently able to be the completed project. However, think about what this will be like in just a few, short years.  

If you’re a skeptic, let me assure you that major firms like Gensler, Arup, Skanska, and BIG are using Midjourney today. If you’re not, it’s as though you are still working in the pre-CAD/BIM days. 

Today, no matter what your design project is, tools like Midjourney can allow you to quickly ideate anything while simultaneously creating imagery that opens you up to new thoughts for experimentation. I see a time when architects become prompt engineers. They learn how to string together words that will yield the visual result they are hoping to see.  

how to use ai in business-midjourney chatgpt

In less than 1 minute, I was able to have AI create this curvilinear home in the woods. I could continue to tweak my prompts and have it refine the fenestration, structure and environment. It could also create an image for any time of day or season.  

I decided to look at another home for the beach and have the forms inspired by the movement of the sand. Within 1 minute I was looking at 4 inspiring options.  

Here is just one example: 

how to use ai in business - midjourney chatgpt bard

For the present, use these visualization tools for inspiration. You can also upload your own designs and have it apply some incredible filters and other stylistic changes which I guarantee will delight and scare you simultaneously. 

I have no reservations that AI is having an impact on the architecture and engineering industries today and will continue to do so at an increasing rate until our profession will be far more unrecognizable in 50 years than our current profession would be to Imhotep, who lived almost 4,700 years ago. 

Interested in learning more on technology, firm operations, project management, and more in your industry? Check out BQE University for more from some of the brightest minds in the A/E and professional services industries. 


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