ConTech Conversations: The AI Revolution is Not Imminent, But It's Closer Than You Think

Patrick Murphy, former congressman and CEO of Togal.AI, discussed the future of artificial intelligence and how it will impact the construction industry.

ConTech Conversations presents a discussion with a leader in the construction technology field each month. Click here for past discussions.

Patrick Murphy wants you to do less busywork.

The former congressman and CEO of Miami, Florida-based Coastal Construction as well as contech firm Togal.AI, is bullish on artificial intelligence and what it means for the construction industry.

For professionals, Togal.AI software automates the normally long and tedious estimating and takeoff process, and the company announced April 5 that it was releasing a new integration with OpenAI’s ChatGPT product, which set off an AI arms race in the broader tech industry earlier this year.

Here, Murphy discussed the future of AI, how construction professionals can integrate it into their work and his predictions for its effect on the workforce.

Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

CONSTRUCTION DIVE: How did you get into contech?

PATRICK MURPHY: I grew up working on all aspects of construction. I went from a human day laborer to working with my grandfather 25 years ago, using a scale ruler, a roller and a yellow pad calculator to do takeoffs.

I worked at Deloitte for a few years as an auditor, and then was in Congress from 2012 to 2016. And while in Washington, D.C., I spent a lot of time thinking about the future of work, artificial intelligence, the sharing economy and really, from a legislative standpoint, trying to think about what was next.

When I rejoined the family business in 2017, I was reminded of really how little had changed. I’d been gone for over a decade, and the processes and procedures are still very much the same.

That’s when it hit me that we need to start really thinking about artificial intelligence and a better way to do things in construction because as we all know, we operate on very thin margins.

You were recently appointed by President Joe Biden to the President’s Export Council. What will your role be as the sole voice for construction on the council?

I’m excited about it. Construction is a huge part of our economy.  

I’m grateful, as the industry is, for some of the recent legislation that was passed for infrastructure spending, and want to continue being a cheerleader for those continued investments.

So much of it was on the horizontal built environment, which is critical, but I’d like to see continued discussion about the vertical construction as needed.

Workforce housing and the hospitals and the schools and so many critical infrastructure facilities I think have to be rethought in today’s environment.

Your company recently introduced ChatGPT into its product. Can you tell us more about that?

The world, I think, was just hit with a massive release of technology. GPT, Google Bard and all of this generative AI that’s coming out, it’s going to transform the economy. And I think construction has as much room to grow and change and adopt as every industry out there.

We’re thrilled obviously with our core functionality at Togal.AI, using artificial intelligence to automate the manual estimating process.

To me, it makes a lot of sense. I don’t think the best use of humans is to be coloring and drawing boxes and drawing lines and counting toilets manually. That’s the work that should really be done by a computer.

Let the human focus on those higher value tasks, the value engineering and the scope and bid leveling.

Do you have any predictions for AI through the next 10 years?

I would say in our lifetime, I would expect to see AI drawing working construction documents and designs with very minimal inputs.

The AI would need to know the zip code, and it will automatically be able to pull the local building code, the local fire safety compliance code and know the density automatically.

You’re going to basically tell it, “Hey, here’s my zip code. Here’s where the parcel of land is. Here’s the lot. Here’s the design I want. I want it to be a Mediterranean, 10-story apartment.”

It’ll be able to optimize the most efficient layout design and be able to put together all those working documents. And I think that’s a drastic game changer for the whole industry. That could happen sooner than a lot of people think.

With the excitement for AI comes hesitation. How do you address legitimate concerns about the technology?

I think this is an exciting time in history. But we have to be careful there.

These machines and these algorithms are now so powerful. I don’t think any human living today knows the extent of what they’re capable of, and that’s certainly true for construction.

I don’t think we know where this is going. Anyone who tells you they do know, I think he’s lying.

How does the AI work in Togal's takeoff software?

Togal.AI is a complete takeoff tool built by estimators, for estimators. There are three main built-in tools that use AI to help estimators save time and money on takeoffs:

1. The Togal Button
2. AI Image Search
3. Togal.CHAT

Learn More About Our AI Features
image of Togal's application with a floorplan layout screen