The Italian Presidency decided at the Digital Economy Ministers’ Meeting in Trieste (August 5, 2021) to place digitization at the core of the G20 discussions. Making digitization an opportunity for all, adjusting education and training, eliminating digital gender gaps and challenging stereotypes, thus, are not just buzzwords anymore but lived engagement. The digital era offers a high potential to protect and enlarge global value chains, create a trustworthy Artificial Intelligence (AI) ecosystem and enhance digital systems to achieve sustainable growth. My digital themed contributions to the scientific community have been very well received over the past two years, one is the external scientific support of the Task Force on Digital Transformation (TF4). Dr. Ingrid Vasiliu-Feltes from the US and me created this Memorandum, a statement that influences policy decisions by emphasizing key factors for diversity, strengthening the innovative action in the digital era in the construction branch. Success was not long in coming: our Memorandum has been fully adopted into the policy recommendations for G20 Summit 2021 (1) (2) (3).
When science and technology, such as AI, are used in human applications, ethical issues arise. The debate is not new. Experts in multiple disciplines have long been critically evaluating the ethical aspects of technology’s impact on humans and society. Using multidisciplinary aspects and revealing key factors for corporate success testify that such an approach in construction both accelerates the development of a trustworthy AI and uses the potentials of AI in a sensible and safe manner. We were interested in understanding questions such a ‘Where can Corporate Digital Responsibility (CDR) be allocated?’ and ‘How shall an adequate ethical framework be designed to support digital innovations in order to make full use of the potentials of digitization and AI? Qualitative research methods that included personal interviews by phone, email or in person with multidisciplinary experts in policy, industry and education, using partially standardized questionnaires, were found most appropriate to conduct primary studies. The evaluation, according to Mayring (4), not only generated data to analyze how best to meet corporate responsibilities in the digital transformation process, but gave profound insights, tendencies and critical reflections in user practice. One of the research highlights is that it is the first time that the construction industry gets engaged. From its own discipline`s perspective it delivers constructive approaches onto the requirements of the EU for trustworthy AI and its human-friendly use. The case studies are extremely illuminating: shared experiences and background knowledge demonstrate the complexity of impacts and key factors that interact with each other and mutually depend on one another.
This kind of method allows a neutral, critical and inclusive research and debate about AI technologies. Different angles of the impacts of AI and emerging technologies were critically expounded from an ethical perspective. To empower corporate responsibility in construction in the digital era, guidelines for rational and safe Human-Technic Interaction were developed. The holistic, interdisciplinary, inclusive approach of the study provides a practical ethical framework as key for success, resource-cost-time efficiency and sustainability in the digital life cycle of the construction project.
There are innumerable potential fields of application for AI. Success of digital innovations greatly depends on the degree it fulfils the relevant criteria set by corporate digital responsibility. Eliminating gender gaps and creating more diverse and inclusive environments leads to success and sustainability both in the digital economy and in innovation. Our research reveals that education and academic training is crucial to formulate new job profiles and corporate requirements for new skills, professional and personal qualifications of the job applicants and instructors?. It adds to the attraction of universities to be able to offer new curricula to respond to these new requirements. Likewise, companies send strong signals to job applicants emphasizing corporate units that provide modern digital infrastructure and cultivate diverse management towards innovative business. Digitization and AI promote a more efficient and safe way of working, dealing with the growing complexity of data and decision-making processes.
One of the results of the interview surveys is the strong need for guidelines, standards and binding rules, both within current German and EU-legislations. Ethical and moral aspects are top priorities when it comes to ensuring corporate governance, required by legislators and stock exchange regulators as a result of corruption scandals, racism, and manipulation of technology in various industries. Corporate responsibility alone, in some cases misused as “Greenwashing”, does not answer the corporate`s full ethical and moral obligation. This is the other side of the still existing lack of binding regulations. In fact, to enlarge value chains, save long-term costs, and achieve sustainable development goals (SDGs), it has been suggested that ethical aspects should be recognized within decision processes, thus, institutionalized in corporate cultures around the globe.
The global construction industry has proven to be a good example in overcoming barriers, partial prejudices, negative attitudes and a lack of both digital and AI education and encouragement of constructive approaches to overcome and strengthen a sustainable digital age. The strengthening of inclusion and diversity does not only derive from an ethical responsibility but also from the principle of the common good and the expansion of the value chain to mobilize resources to achieve an 'ecosystem of excellence'. As a result, the construction industry and its associated companies bear significant responsibilities for the environment and climate. The challenges can be met by data-driven technologies that decrease the use of resources, ease efficient project-life-cycle, ease human work and make it safer, and support all sustainable activities involved such as long term corporate digital business models and the education of qualified personnel. Currently, construction projects struggle to keep within budget, time schedule and at the same time, maintain high quality standards, but especially lack efficiency in all processes involved. Digital technologies and AI could significantly enhance the efficiency at all levels. However, first, corporate responsibilities have to be mastered.
The increasing complexity of processes and the risks of digital transformation on both human technologies and human-machine interactions lead to a need for responsible innovation, orientation, functional and safe development and an overall CDR culture in the construction industry (5). Stakeholder concerns, the lack of transparency, and environmental restrictions are among the obstacles that hinder widespread adoption of CDR. AI has a high potential in many fields, including safe human work, data accessibility, project time budgeting and cost planning efficiency, and quality, safety and risk management. It may even play a role in the protection of natural resources and the slowing down of climate change. Germany, a strong technological leader in Europe, has an important role model function for other countries to lead into the new century of technology.
In my research I shared some findings with a Fraunhofer study. Fraunhofer cooperates with Cyber Valley; the study was commissioned by German Ministry of Work and Social. My collaboration with this Fraunhofer project sets signal for the increasing public awareness of the topic (6). It highlights the pioneering role and urgent Call for Action in embedding ethical principles into the earliest phase of technological development and its fields of applications. Language transfer, transparency and education are essential for gaining trust in new technologies, participating and shaping the digital transformation process, moving forward. It is time to set new sails to navigate digital times in a powerful, enriching, sustainable way. Best practices are evidence that disruptive changes to existing corporate digital culture are a driver of more efficient corporate and project processes, and thus, for the increase of human and financial profits.
We are in the middle of a renaissance of value orientation. Society sets the ethical values, people shape society – this is a very proactive exchange. Ethics should accompany the process of AI development and decision-making from the beginning. My study aims to send a strong signal on how important it is that the construction industry gets engaged now – not only to strengthen its own competitive role, but also in order not to lose track of the digital transformation. The study contributes to shape value-based, sustainable digitization and AI and raises awareness of the responsible role of the construction industry. A “Transparent and Ethical AI - Made in Europe" can be understood as a seal of quality. A European label strengthening sustainability and growing into the role of a prosperous and strong global partner. These new aspects add value to the Nature Community.
- Vasiliu-Feltes I & Weber-Lewerenz B, (2021). Framework for a better value system in
computer algorithms. Part of the Memorandum shared with the T20 Task Force Digital Transformation in preparation of the G20 Summit in Oct 2021. July 2021.
- T20-B20 Joint Statement (2021). B20 & T20 Statement on Digital Transformation in view of the G20 Digital Ministers' Meeting Trieste as of 5 August 2021. The G20 has a crucial role in making digitalisation an opportunity for all. https://www.t20italy.org/2021/08/04/the-g20-has-a-crucial-role-in-making-digitalisation-an-opportunity-for-all
- T20 Task Force 4 (2021). Preliminary Policy Recommendations. Preliminary findings and proposals by Task Force 4 on Digital Transformation. https://www.t20italy.org/2021/07/08/task-force-4-preliminary-policy-recommendations
- Mayring P (2015). Qualitative Content Analysis: Theoretical Background and Procedures. Approaches to qualitative research in mathematics education. Springer Publishing Dordrecht, p.365-380
- Weber-Lewerenz B (2021). Corporate digital responsibility (CDR) in construction engineering - Ethical guidelines for the application of digital transformation and artificial intelligence (AI) in user practice. Springer Nature SN Applied Sciences. Volume 3, 801, Issue 10, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1007/s42452-021-04776-1
- Giannakidis A, Weber-Lewerenz B, Stolze D (2021). AI in Construction: Possible applications for planning, realizing and operating buildings. Fraunhofer IAO Institute Publishing. https://www.ki-fortschrittszentrum.de/de/studien/ki-in-der-bauwirtschaft.html
Further events and information
Weber-Lewerenz, B. (2021). AI in the context of Ethics, societal values and principles. Conference
Key Note and Discussion as of 28 September 2021, BIM and AI. buildingSMART Theme Day online.
Weber-Lewerenz, B. (2021). CDR in Construction 4.0 and Gender Innovation by Digital Transformation in Construction. Two Conference Papers and Presentations as of 14 October 2021. 31st RESER Conference: The disruptive Role of Data, AI and Ecosystems in Services Next Generation in Heilbronn, Germany. https://www.reser21.de.
Weber-Lewerenz, B. (2021). Diversity as key to successful Digital Innovation in Construction.
Conference Key Note and Discussion as of 27 October 2021, buildingSMART Forum Berlin, Germany. https://eveeno.com/buildingsmart-forum-2021.