Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Quantum Computing and Construction

Many in the construction industry are, or should be, keenly and painfully aware that the industry lags other industries significantly when it comes to labor productivity.  Professor Paul Teicholz has hammered this issue, very effectively, for over 20 years now.  Based on everything I've read, it appears the construction industry simply failed to get on board the internet train when it left the station.  Hell, just this week Home Depot finally broke down stopped faxing paperwork related to orders for supplies and began emailing that paper work.  Even law firms use email!  Geez.

So why should we talk about Quantum Computing in Construction if we haven't even weaned everyone off their fax machine?  Because that's where the future is.

The article excerpted and linked below describes D-Wave's efforts to create a quantum computer.  One of the more interesting points in the article is that D-Wave's quantum computer seems to be exceptionally good at calculating / solving complex optimization problems.  Which got me to thinking.

In the built industry we are told, all the time, that the iron triangle of cost, quality and schedule cannot be broken. My contention is that's crap.  The built industry is burdened with a waste factor of at least 60% and there's no way, NO WAY, you cannot reduce cost, improve quality and build faster every single time in the built industry.  If 60% - or more - of the labor, materials and time expended on a project are wasted then building better building faster and cheaper is possible, no matter what the experts say.

But controlling all three points on the iron triangle is tough.  Reducing costs impacts quality.  Increasing quality raises costs.  Cost and quality both impact schedule.  It's absolutely true that these three points on the iron triangle are connected and when you impact one you impact the other two to some degree as well.  But isn't the ability to control cost, quality and schedule on a complex construction project really, at its core, just an optimization problem?  I believe it is.  Plus a cultural problem.  And a legal problem.  But those last two are easy to solve with the right team, it's the optimization problem that has the industry stumped.

Which brings me to the value of Quantum Computing in Construction.  To run a full blown optimization analysis on every critical decision on a complex construction project at every moment in time that such a decision is necessary is the Holy Grail of the BIM / VDC world. But to date we've been thwarted by the inability of our computers to wield the data found in massive BIM models.  And simultaneously keeping your finger on the pulse of the costs, quality and schedule of a project is a monumental task.  But, again, it's just an optimization problem driving the the facts / events as the occur / manifest themselves.

Which brings me to the Wired Magazine article excerpted and linked below.  When discussing optimization the author says, in part:

By 2007, D-Wave had managed to produce a 16-qubit system, the first one complicated enough to run actual problems. They gave it three real-world challenges: solving a sudoku, sorting people at a dinner table, and matching a molecule to a set of molecules in a database. The problems wouldn’t challenge a decrepit Dell. But they were all about optimization, and the chip actually solved them. “That was really the first time when I said, holy crap, you know, this thing’s actually doing what we designed it to do,” Rose says. “Back then we had no idea if it was going to work at all.” But 16 qubits wasn’t nearly enough to tackle a problem that would be of value to a paying customer. He kept pushing his team, producing up to three new designs a year, always aiming to cram more qubits together.

The age of quantum computing is still a ways off.  The D-Wave is experimental and hardly ready for prime time, though Lockheed Martin, Google and others have seen fit to purchase access to the machine.  That said, there's a lot of work to be done.  But as technology improves, year after year, the excuses for failure in the construction industry ring more and more hollow.

I'm looking forward to tackling the existing problems with the tools we have and preparing for a future in which we have even better tools.  Meanwhile, I suspect we will find it easier and easier to control all three points on the iron triangle as we develop new and improved technology, management tools and business processes.

Welcome to the Collaborative Revolution!

James L. Salmon, Esq.
Collaborative Construction
300 Pike Street
Cincinnati, Ohio 45202
Summary of Services and James L. Salmon's CV

Office 513-721-5672
Fax 513-562-4388
Cell 512-630-4446

Collaborative Construction Website
No Silos Website

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A lot of contractors & construction directors are really excited about technologies in construction. But, sometimes it's important to be not overexcited, like for example with Google Glass. Check out this blog post