Artificial intelligence is revolutionizing construction. The industry is increasingly using AI to help teams improve decision making and safety, predict and prevent risk, minimize staffing challenges, improve project workflows, access project information more efficiently and, sometimes by doing the previous, to save money. 

The risks associated with using AI, with known and unknown consequences, have led to global efforts to implement greater oversight to prevent misuse.

Not surprisingly, the use of AI has also drawn the attention of federal and state legislators and regulators. Even though the legal and regulatory landscape governing AI is still in its early stages, many private initiatives in the construction industry have embraced self-regulation to foster responsible AI development and deployment. These private initiatives are designed to harness the benefits of AI effectively and responsibly while simultaneously addressing and mitigating the potential risks associated with the use of AI. The common theme among contractors of all sizes is that these companies are committed to addressing the impact of AI on their businesses and are investing resources focused on those efforts. Each company has different focuses, ranging from marketing and design to building proprietary AI tools internally to enhance productivity. These companies expect that this will be a long-term commitment and recognize the importance of understanding the rapidly developing AI landscape to develop and maintain a competitive advantage.

Because of the transformative benefits to their customers, shareholders and workforces, construction companies have been proactive in charting a lawful and ethical path to using AI. Many have embraced self-regulation to address AI risks. Indeed, it has become a standard practice for many leading contractors to develop or publish their own AI principles or guidelines. A growing number have also originated responsible AI resources, including templates and checklists. Similarly, an expanding number of construction companies have developed their own internal policies on AI and created best practices to help guide its use.

To ensure a larger impact, an increasing number of major construction companies have formed partnerships to study and identify best practices on AI technologies. Associated Builders and Contractors, a trade association with over 23,000 member companies, has created ABC’s Tech Alliance, a group of 15 construction technology companies that create technology and innovative solutions for ABC contractor members. The alliance is designed to help ABC members harness the benefits of new technologies, including AI, and to enhance their capacity to develop talent, secure projects and execute those projects safely, ethically and profitably.

Additionally, ABC has established a Tech Marketplace for companies that provide construction technology and innovative digital solutions. The Tech Marketplace was created to advance and grow ABC members’ technology strategies, offerings and abilities. ABC has built strategic relationships with AI leaders, including Meta, Microsoft and Oracle, to help its members understand from global leaders the impact of AI. ABC also created a public website dedicated to exploring how AI is affecting construction. ABC wants its members to be able to utilize, benefit from and share this information with the industry.

Construction trade associations are spearheading self-regulatory efforts in other ways. ABC issues an annual tech report which provides educational and informative resources for members on technology. ABC also released an AI guide for construction professionals in February, which is designed to provide contractors with a baseline level of knowledge to enable them to fully participate in the conversation about AI in the industry. These internal and external best practices can serve as a guide for small- and medium-sized businesses, whether members or nonmembers. lacking such expertise and resources. In addition, ABC regularly hosts training events to educate contractors on the benefits and risks of AI. Because the use of AI is the hottest topic in construction technology today, ABC shares these resources at chapter events.

Overall, private initiatives are critical for several reasons. First, the construction industry has first-hand expertise in AI development that is simply incomparable to any legislative body or governmental agency. Because the industry is on the cutting edge of funding, developing, deploying and implementing AI, private construction companies are often better situated to tackle these unique challenges than governmental regulatory bodies. More specifically, government mandates are much broader than just regulating AI, while regulatory efforts are not necessarily being designed with the construction industry in mind.

Private initiatives can help build a culture of trust, transparency and accountability in AI technologies. Because construction companies using AI are facing a myriad of legislation and regulatory proposals at federal, state and local levels, many of them with differing requirements, companies need alternative compliance approaches. Self-regulatory efforts can help ensure the industry is well-positioned to proactively respond to any future regulations while also minimizing any negative outcomes associated with their AI systems. Further, successful self-regulatory schemes may be used as models for future governmental regulations, to the significant benefit of businesses in the industry.

In this current regulatory landscape, one thing is clear: Private initiatives are mission critical. Some contractors have five or more people dedicated to AI, which includes educating the company on current tools, partnering with industry leaders and hiring subject matter experts as consultants. More small- and mid-size contractors are using AI in their businesses, and associations like ABC are making sure their members have a partner supporting their efforts.

While regulatory uncertainty is causing many industries to pause for a government framework, the construction industry is not waiting on governmental entities to try and catch up to the rapidly developing field of AI. The nation’s economy is using AI and automation at an ever-increasing pace, and these changes will have an outsized impact on industries that are late to the game. The construction industry should remain at the vanguard of national discussions on AI to ensure that the technology is developed, deployed and used responsibly and in ways that are consistent with its highest priority goals and fundamental values.

Bradford J. Kelley is a shareholder in Littler Mendelson, PC’s Washington, D.C., office and a former senior official at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. Matthew Abeles is vice president of construction technology and innovation for the Associated Builders and Contractors.