Discussion Thread

How will automation affect civil engineering?

  • 1.  How will automation affect civil engineering?

    Posted 03-11-2021 09:15 AM

    Civil engineers who shared their experience and advice in "Explore Engineering Careers in Consulting" responded to 5 questions we did not get to during the live roundtable discussion.  Here are their answers to the third question in this series of posts: 

    Today's question: How does/will automation affect civil engineers? Are we going to be replaced someday by machines?
    (Answers are based on individual experiences and are not necessarily representative of practices at all consulting firms.)

    Benjamin Cornelius, P.E., S.E., M.ASCE,
    Partner, LERA Consulting Structural Engineers
    Automation helps engineers perform repetitive tasks with less effort.  It can be used in computational design to run many analyses in a way that allows an engineer to more quickly identify ideas that have potential.  Replacement of engineers who work on all but very repetitive projects will not happen anytime soon.  As long as architects continue to design unique buildings, there will be a need for civil engineers who can figure out how to apply science and engineering principals to new situations and identify safe, economical, and constructable structures. 

    Jon Zufelt, Ph.D., P.E., D.WRE, F.ASCE,
    Senior Hydraulic Engineer, HDR
    Automation and computer programs will continue to increase in use (and your knowledge of what they do will also expand) but we will always require people who know what the capabilities are and how to properly use them. Understanding the physical processes being modeled and what would be reasonable results are very important.

    Marsia Geldert-Murphey, P.E.,
    Regional Director - Missouri & Illinois Operations, Lochmueller Group
    That would be a tragic mistake. Actually we will still be needed to support the implementation or use of any AI or AR data or derived data. As the saying goes "garbage in, garbage out" so we still need to understand the basic natural science and physics involved so any use of this technology is applied appropriately and used effectively and we as the engineering experts can still do a sanity check on the output. These tools will actually help us communicate what we understand as scientists and engineers more effectively to the general public, these should be viewed as tools. It is no different that when slide rules were replaced by calculators and drafting triangles, planimeters and scales were replaced by computer aided drafting. It is all part of the progression and advancement we see everywhere, but technology will complement not replace humans as it has done to this point.

    Brad Aldrich, P.E., F.ASCE, F.NSPE, Retired President, Aldrich + Elliott, P.C.
    If we do our jobs, engineers will never be obsolete. Data, software, AI and other tech are great at providing a specific answer to a question, but engineering is much more than that. Engineering is a creative art where engineers apply their ingenuity and knowledge of innovation to solve problems. That's why engineering is so fun. There is never one single correct solution to a true engineering problem. We need to identify all viable solutions, consider the merits of each and select one that we deem optimizes the client's needs, taking into account initial cost, O&M cost, resiliency, etc.

    If you missed our live session watch the recording posted on the Career Discovery web page https://collaborate.asce.org/covid-19/career-discovery.  Also register there for future roundtable sessions exploring civil engineering careers in education, industry and construction – and bring your questions for our panelists!

    Jennifer Hofmann Aff.M.ASCE
    Manager, Professional Advancement
    Reston VA