Let’s face it, we have some real problems in the construction industry today – labor crunch, the supply chain disaster, a rising mental health crisis – just to name a few. Thankfully, there is a giant bright light at the end of the tunnel that just might save us from the brink of destruction and that is innovation! We were fortunate to have a conversation with a man who has not only dedicated his life to future innovation, but who has witnessed firsthand parts of our world that are known for destruction, and taken that opportunity to learn from them and, more importantly, done his part to rebuild them. René Morkos is one of the most innovative, educated, and inspiring inventors in construction today. With an upbringing that includes his parents escaping communism, living in war-torn Beirut, learning how to travel the world as a boy, choosing to work in Afghanistan, and following in his Dad’s footsteps as a Civil Engineer (even when told not to), it is clear René was born for such a time as this in the construction industry!
Although you cannot have a “golden age” in any industry until you reach its peak, you cannot begin the climb until the initial pioneers begin paving the way for others to follow. René would not be the industry influencer he is had he not blazed his own trail along the way. Several times on the podcast, René began his stories with “everyone said I was crazy when I…” – which I imagine is the same way most trailblazers recount their life story. He was told he was crazy to seek and achieve his PhD from Stanford University in construction management but wasn’t deterred for a moment, explaining, “That’s the cool thing about doing a Ph.D. You get to tinker with stuff. It’s really fascinating….It’s like the only time in the world where your brain belongs to only you.“ He encountered another one of those “you’re crazy” moments when, as a young student, he decided to work on job sites for free to gain valuable experience. Without this unconventional jobsite education, the likelihood of René becoming the founder of ALICE Technologies is extremely low. He reminds us of the importance of taking a leap of faith even when it doesn’t make sense to everyone else – “The one thing I would advise anyone to do is if you’re doing something and everybody’s like, oh, yeah, that’s a great idea, you’re not really squeezing all the potential out, right?.”
We both readily admitted to René that we struggle to understand how ALICE uses Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, or algorithms in an industry that changes by the day and he answered it this way: “The thing that we did with ALICE, and this is the part that’s kind of remarkable, ALICE understands how to build stuff! So think about that – ALICE knows what a crane is. ALICE knows what a crew is. ALICE knows what overtime is. ALICE understands what the production rate is. ALICE is a generative simulator…She actually moves resources around, shuffles up to space and time to build your object.”
When asked about the most influential people in his life, René assuredly answered, “There’s two. I had two advisors at Stanford – Professor Martin Fischer and Dr. John Kunz. Those two, really between the two of them, pushed me beyond the edge, right? They consistently failed me. That was the one thing that they did really well. So I would have to redo it until they finally approved.” Upon reflecting on the podcast, we found ourselves in awe over his response – that Rene chose two people that were not his best friends or family members, but the two that challenged him the most, that sculpted him into who he is today.
We both left feeling inspired, not only because of what René is doing at ALICE, but because his passion, pride, and love for his business and this industry were evident and compelling. With innovators like Morkos, our industry is in good hands, but more importantly, his example is showing other entrepreneurs that innovation and digitization are here to stay in the construction industry and we are open for business! He tells our listeners of his goals for his legacy, “I want to leave behind a field that is more capable of being a cutting edge, high tech, research-focused field.” René is well on his way to leaving behind a lasting legacy in the construction industry that will not only create massive efficiencies, but will attract new entrepreneurial talent that is drastically needed.