The watershed moment for generative artificial intelligence was the release of ChatGPT, a transformative word processing tool that uses AI to quickly and comprehensively develop content in response to a query.

Almost immediately, design firms and construction companies found myriad ways to use ChatGPT’s functionality to save time while crafting social media posts, inserting proposal boilerplate, brainstorming ideas and producing other internal and external material.

As great as AI’s potential is for increasing our industry’s efficiency, we’re still sorting out how we should — and shouldn’t — use generative AI at this stage of its evolution. Are we overlooking potential pitfalls in the name of faster production? Have we considered the legal ramifications of publishing content derived from ChatGPT and similar AI programs, where the reference source is rarely identified? Could our brand and reputation suffer from relying too heavily on impersonal generative AI for marketing and project-related content?

Until we have a better understanding of what generative AI can and can’t do, designers and contractors should seek a middle ground ­somewhjere between completely disregarding the opportunities that AI offers and adopting it as a common tool for unregulated use in all parts of the company.

As the construction industry continues to wade into the deep end with this evolving technology, consider the following areas where generative AI can immediately make a positive difference to a designer or contractor, as well as the risks that swim alongside of it.

Social Media Marketing: Architecture and engineering firms and contractors of all types and sizes are generating content for LinkedIn and other social media outlets using ChatGPT. The process typically involves asking the chatbot a question, then reviewing and editing the article it generates before posting it as a thought leadership piece on LinkedIn, a blog or some other form of social media. A process that might take an hour or two without AI can occur in minutes.

Proposal Development: Firms are using AI to generate boilerplate for competitive proposals. As is usually the case with technology, the better data available to the AI program, the more comprehensive and credible the result.

Go/No-Go Process: Some design firms use AI to analyze factors such as client history and status, dollar value and location of the proposed project, competitors, and likelihood that winning would further the firm’s strategic goals. As with most go/no-go exercises, they input objective and subjective information into a form to produce a number or percentage that indicates whether the firm should pursue the work. AI can bring far more relevant data into the process and deliver a stronger direction, not only about whether to “go” or not, but also how to potentially improve the firm’s chances. Firms owning a robust, detailed CRM system with information about past pursuits will glean better insight.

Brainstorming: Firms are using AI to prime the pump for ideas to use in content marketing programs, website content, client outreach and even project design. Stumped on what to say? Ask AI, and then filter and refine the results to say what you want to say.

Scheduling: AI can help project managers prioritize their day by playing out scenarios that alert them to what will happen if they follow certain action paths. It can determine the point at which a phase would be delayed if the PM doesn’t complete a task by a certain date. 

Reports and Data Analysis: AI can help spot trends and patterns, summarize data and produce content faster than humans can. This often results in more comprehensive, detailed deliverables rich with relevant information that would be cost prohibitive for a human to do on their own.

Despite these opportunities, the caution flag is waving. The lightning-quick emergence of generative AI such as ChatGPT has created a free-for-all. Employees may be using this chatbot program or other forms of AI without the knowledge or approval of company leaders and IT managers, potentially exposing their company to everything from embarrassing public gaffes to legal calamity. 

This is why some firms are hitting the brakes on using generative AI programs for external use, at least until leadership has had time to review the potential pitfalls and grow comfortable with the tool. What should you do?

Sow Your AI Use With Policy

Establish a policy that prohibits the use of AI for external use without proper vetting by someone qualified to do itThe content produced by generative AI is more than occasionally inaccurate. It also rarely identifies the source of its information, which could potentially create a copyright infringement issue. And — despite claims that AI-generated content is indistinguishable from human-generated material — the articles it produces are often wooden and predictably robotic, which could reflect poorly on your brand. Research everything generated by AI that you plan to publish to ensure that it is correct, and add the human touch to protect your brand and your reputation as a thought leader. 

Reap the Rewards From AI Standards

 Create a task force representing a cross-section of the firm to guide the process and create coherent policies regarding the use of AI. This group should include upper management, IT, leaders of other administrative groups (marketing and human resources ought to be represented), and others in the firm that have an understanding of technology and a grasp of the big picture.

 Don’t give up on AI. Instead, recognize that AI is a growing factor in designers and contractors’ success, despite the challenges and potential difficulties it poses. It is here to stay. Firms that learn how to corral and intelligently direct the massive capabilities of generative AI programs such as ChatGPT and the other, more advanced programs that are sure to follow, will thrive in the fast-approaching future. Those that fail to control it, or let it pass them by entirely, will fall behind.

Rich Friedman is the president of Friedman & Partners and has worked in and consulted for the AEC and environmental consulting fields for more than 25 years.