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Who needs artificial when you can get the real deal? 

News | July 20, 2023 | By:

After years of anticipation, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has arrived, and like the movie, it is Everything Everywhere All at Once – it’s in the search engines and the automated customer responses. It’s underpinning high school and college essays. It’s being used (somewhat controversially) to guide physician treatments. I have even used it to create a cool AI-generated “painting” that I’ve hung from my office door. 

They say that AI will change all things (for better or worse), starting with the tech sector. It is predicted to “eat people,” putting vast swaths of folks out of work. Perhaps, it will. At the very least, it will allow humans to leverage data and information to create reports, apps, and complex ideas at a faster rate than any prior transformative technology. So what?

What does AI mean for us Geos? My colleague, Yogesh Prashar, is one of the most forward-thinking people that I know and he thinks it means a lot. Yogesh shows examples of how folks are using AI (or machine learning) to formulate new guidelines for pile capacities and the risk of slope instability. Others are beginning to use AI to predict generalized soil conditions and then using these predictions to plan future geotechnical investigations. In academic circles, deans and department heads are hiring Geo-AI experts (they now exist!) to lead geotechnical research to conquer problems previously unconquerable. AI is here among us Geos already (and all at once). We are not immune to these things. So what?

What does it mean the rest of us Geos? In a profession that produces enormous amounts of data and is time-consumed by mapping, AI truly offers us a world of opportunity. Wouldn’t it be great if we could command our trusty mobile phones: “Siri: Please create a subsurface profile for the data contained in project folder XYZ and all that you know from available topographic maps, USGS records, utility layouts, and regional geology supplemented by our boring logs for nearby sites.” Now that would be something! It would replace that which we already do but at a neural capacity a bit larger than those between our ears (albeit a low bar for this writer). So what?

What should we be doing? For those of us that get plugged in, AI can enable us to do the things that we need to do transform our AI-generated data (maps, correlations, predictions) to provide our clients with the knowledge needed to make things go. But it cannot provide the judgment that we need to apply to get to the right geo-answer. And it cannot yet look for and envision the discontinuities that drive construction risk. For these things – knowledge, planning, judgment, and risk – we need people. And that’s where us Geos come in, isn’t it? Article written by and courtesy of  Kord Wissmann, Ph.D., P.E., D.GE, president of Geopier, a division of CMC.

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