General Purpose Technologies and Construction of the Built Environment: Dimensions of Development and Industry Evolution
41 Pages Posted: 19 Mar 2020
Date Written: February 25, 2020
Hughes (1987) develops a model of industry development based on invention, innovation and the state of an industry in relation to a general purpose technology (GPT). This model is applied to the construction industry and production of the built environment to assess potential effects of artificial intelligence (AI) and digital fabrication. The paper first outlines GPTs and technological systems, then argues that construction of the built environment is the output of such a system of production. The second part focuses on invention and the effect of previous GPTs and their impact on building and construction is discussed, with steam power and the mechanization of construction in the nineteenth century as examples. The following section discusses innovation, with incremental innovation in concrete used as an example of how new materials affect on-site processes in construction. An attempt is made to identify the technological frontier in construction. It is argued the impact of AI and digital fabrication will work along the three dimensions of industry development in construction identified by Peters (1996): industrialized production of components and materials; mechanization and automation of tasks; and organization of projects. The conclusion discusses AI, digital fabrication and the organization of construction’s system of production.
Keywords: artificial intelligence, built environment, construction, diffusion, production process
JEL Classification: L16, L23, L74, N60, O14, O33
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