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ICE Strategy Session: Covid-19, Artificial Intelligence, and the future of the Civil Engineer

Event organised by ICE

08 December 2020

This event has now ended


The Covid-19 pandemic is encouraging many civil engineering firms to confront directly what many of them already knew – that the future business model is unlikely to support large numbers of employees sat in front of computers and based in expensive locations. The pandemic has brought into sharp relief the thinking of Professor Richard Susskind, whose 2015 book “The Future of the Professions” confronts this challenge directly.

Civil engineers are already experiencing this challenge in several different ways. For recent graduates, this may mean increased difficulty in finding employment because many entry-level roles no longer exist. For those with more established careers, this may mean challenges in accessing the upskilling needed to work with the digital technologies that are now being rolled out. For senior executives, the challenges include strategic decisions about present and future digital technologies and how best to deploy them.

Given the necessary multiple perspectives on this topic, this event provides three contrasting voices to discuss it: a keynote presentation by Professor Richard Susskind; brief responses by four current chief executives in infrastructure; and a Q&A session chaired by a President’s Future Leader exploring the impact on both current and future civil engineers at all stages of their career.

Invited to speak in more than 60 countries, Professor Susskind argues the assumption that engineering jobs – even “creative or innovative” ones - are ‘safe’ from destruction by digital technologies is fundamentally misplaced.

Susskind argues that machines do not ‘only’ process information, they also perform tasks that apparently require creativity or innovation, even if they use different methods than human cognition. Furthermore, Professor Susskind argues, many professionals tend to underestimate digital technology’s impacts because they focus on the processes that make up their working lives rather than the outcomes that clients want.

The way forward, argues Professor Susskind, cannot be competing with digital technology, but to be involved in building the systems that will replace civil engineering jobs of today. This then raises some very important questions about what future civil engineering roles will be, the business models that can support civil engineering, and what training and education is needed to get them there.

In this special Strategy Session, Professor Susskind will offer a 20 minute keynote before inviting a response from a panel of senior business leaders who are at the forefront of confronting and embracing this challenge.

We will ask our panel to reflect on Professor Susskind’s thesis and explain how they may – or may not - be adapting their graduate and apprentice recruitment strategies to confront this new reality.

Fundamentally, in the wake of Covid, we will ask them to explain how they see the future for emerging civil engineering professionals.

An open Question & Answer session chaired by one of the President’s Future Leaders will then permit all attendees to invite comment from the panel on the issues facing civil engineers both today and into the future.

The session is being delivered as part of ICE’s Engineering Rebellion project which is seeking to answer the question: “Who are the future civil engineers and how does the ICE support them?”

For more information please contact:

ICE Events Team