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From Pyramids to Dams: what a change in the workforce!

The Yangqu dam on the Tibetan plateau will be built using AI-controlled machinery applying 3D printing techniques. Image credit: Weibo

The big pyramids standing on the Giza plateau involved a huge mass of workers that dedicated many years of hard labour to their construction. Herodotus wrote of 100,000 workers building the big pyramid (Khufu) but he estimated the number 2,700 years after the pyramid was built. Modern historians give a lower estimate in the range of 20,000 to 30,000 workers, based on the archeological remains of the camps that hosted their accommodation. Whatever the estimate it is sure that the construction involved a huge number of people.

The Big Pyramid has been used as the icon of huge construction and rightly so being by far the largest construction endeavour of the ancient civilisation. Today we have many “big pyramids”, actually quite a few are even larger. Dams to name a construction area that involves the movement of very large masses of material (the Hoover Dam “weights” some 6.5 million tons, and an average of 4,000-5,000 people worked on the construction site every day for 5 years, the Khufu pyramids 20% less, 5.7 million tons).

Now a news coming from China reveals a project to build a dam on the Tibetan plateau, Yangqu hydropower plant, expected to deliver 5 billion KWh per year to the Henan province. The amazing news is on the way the dam will be built: using autonomous 3D printing machines controlled by artificial intelligence software with very limited human manpower (that is actually used to supervise the machines, not for the actual construction!). Also all the other machinery, like trucks to transport materials, will be autonomous and based on AI. The dam should be completed by 2024.

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About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.