FEATURE: Will artificial intelligence replace engineers?
When Open AI released the Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3 (GPT-3) language generator in June 2020, many were shocked.
The artificial intelligence (AI) program was able to produce pieces of writing indistinguishable from those created by quite skilled human writers.
Many asked whether the emergence of such programs spelled the end of journalism as a human profession. There are other disciplines previously reserved for talented humans that today’s AI can comfortably tackle. It can write songs that mimic the sound of famous pop stars or create paintings in the style of great masters of the past.
In engineering, architecture and design, a new type of AI-based software emerged, capable of creating a multitude of solutions to a problem in a short period based on predefined criteria. The components that AI designs today are so far of a rather basic nature – brackets, housings, forks, support structures.
The goal is to help engineers work faster and make them more efficient, according to Paul Haimes, vice-president at digital services and Internet of Things company PTC, which develops generative design solutions. But what is going to happen next? “Generative design builds on the heritage of CAD but takes away the iterative process from the desktop of the engineer and puts it into the cloud environment,” says Haimes. “We are allowing the computer to do the iterative work that previously would have been done by the engineers. The engineers get a range of options to choose from, but it’s still the engineer who is making the decision.”
Haimes says that, thanks to the speed at which the computer produces the iterations, the resulting product is better optimised. That leads to cost reductions, greater reliability and streamlined manufacturing. “It’s not an automated process, it’s assisted,” says Haimes. “In the future, we will continue to include more and more design goals, but there will always be a role for the engineers. We are not replacing them.”