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Generative AI and machine learning are engineering the future in these 9 disciplines

All vertical industries continue to adopt emerging tools and methodologies, but the impact of generative AI in engineering disciplines stands out from the rest.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer
Abstract engineering depicted by a circuit board
Yuichiro Chino/Getty Images

Generative artificial intelligence (AI) is proving to be a powerful tool for a broad range of engineering disciplines, offering highly streamlined processes and work products, and providing invaluable insights for industry leaders.

But while the term 'generative AI' is the tech industry's favorite buzzword, what exactly is it? At its core, generative AI is a subset of artificial intelligence that can generate new data, designs, or models based on existing data by using machine learning (ML) components and algorithms. Generative AI's power lies in its ability to optimize and accelerate processes, making it an ideal technology for engineering disciplines that require high precision, efficiency, and innovation. 

Also: 4 ways generative AI can stimulate the creator economy

Each of the major engineering disciplines can apply generative AI toolsets in a similar manner, but also in their own unique ways -- and each field also has unique commercial and open-source solutions they can use to leverage generative AI and ML to their best advantage.

Let's look at nine major engineering disciplines and think about how they might approach using generative AI, including examples of specific solutions, both commercial and open source. Many of these tools have been used for years, but are now incorporating generative AI features, or have capabilities that continue to be refined by improving their data models or codebases, which their developers train or optimize with commercial and open-source generative AI and ML toolsets and methodologies.

How can generative AI and ML be used in software engineering?

Software engineering is about more than just writing code; it's the art and science of designing, developing, and maintaining software systems that power our societies. It's the discipline that provides the foundational technology for the modern digital world, from mobile applications to the complex algorithms that drive AI. 

Software engineering encompasses many activities, including requirements analysis, system design, programming, testing, and maintenance. Generative AI and ML offer transformative solutions that can automate and optimize various aspects of software development, making it faster, more efficient, and more robust.

Enabling digital transformation:

  • Automated code generation: Commercial tools, such as OpenAI's Codex (also used in GitHub Copilot in Microsoft Visual Studio) and open-source platforms like Sourcery, can generate code snippets, reducing development time and errors.

  • Automated testing: Solutions such as Testim.io and open-source frameworks like JUnit can automate testing and ensure robust software quality.

  • DevOps automation: GitLab's Auto DevOps and open-source tools like Jenkins can automate deployment and monitoring, enhancing operational efficiency.

How can generative AI and ML be used in data engineering?

Data engineering is a specialized field that enables data-driven decision-making in organizations. It involves designing, constructing, and maintaining architectures, databases, and large-scale processing systems that transform raw data into actionable insights. 

Also: Why generative AI so popular: Everything you need to know

Data engineers ensure data is available, reliable, and in a format that data scientists and business analysts can use for their analyses. As data volume, velocity, and variety grow exponentially, data engineering becomes increasingly complex and vital, requiring disruptive tools that use generative AI and ML to provide velocity and insights on demand.

Creating actionable insights:

  • Synthetic data creation: NVIDIA's DataSynth and open-source platforms like Synthea (for creating test patient health data) can generate synthetic datasets for robust machine-learning training.

  • Automated schema design: Open-source tools like Apache Avro can automate database schema design, streamlining data storage and retrieval.

  • Real-time data handling: Open-source tools, such as Apache Flink and Apache Kafka, can optimize real-time data processing, which enables efficient data-stream management.

How can generative AI and ML be used in mechanical engineering?

Mechanical engineering shapes everything from the vehicles we drive to the appliances we use at home. It encompasses designing, analyzing, and manufacturing various mechanical systems, from simple mechanisms, such as levers and pulleys, to complex machinery like aircraft engines and robotic arms. 

Mechanical engineers work to solve some of the most challenging problems, including how to make machines more efficient, sustainable, and safe. Generative AI is becoming a key optimizing technology within the mechanical engineering discipline, offering powerful tools for producing more efficient designs, improving material utilization, and predicting maintenance needs.

The mechanics of everyday life:

  • Design optimization: Autodesk's Generative Design and open-source solutions like FreeCAD can optimize mechanical designs for various constraints.

  • Material utilization: Commercial platforms, including Altair Inspire (for structural analysis), Materialise (3D printing for the healthcare industry), and open-source tools like Opencascade SALOME, can optimize material usage, reducing waste and costs.

  • Predictive maintenance: IBM's Watson and open-source platforms, such as Python's scikit-learn machine-learning tool, can forecast mechanical failures, enabling proactive maintenance.

How can generative AI and ML be used in civil engineering?

Civil engineering, a field with ancient roots, is essential for designing and maintaining bridges, roads, and buildings. Civil engineers ensure our communities are functional, safe, and sustainable, tackling complex challenges such as urban development, traffic congestion, and disaster resilience. 

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As we face the modern challenges of rapid urbanization and climate change, the role of civil engineering becomes even more critical. Generative AI is emerging as a transformative technology in this field, offering innovative solutions for optimizing infrastructure design, predicting natural disasters, and efficiently allocating resources. 

Building infrastructure:

  • Infrastructure design: Bentley's Generative Components and open source 3D-modeling solutions like Blender can assist in infrastructure planning and optimizing designs based on various constraints.

  • Disaster prediction: Platforms like One Concern and open-source tools such as OpenQuake can predict potential disasters, enabling preventive measures.

  • Resource allocation: Oracle's Primavera P6 and open-source platforms, such as GanttProject and ProjectLibre, can optimize the allocation of resources, including labor, materials, and time, ensuring efficient project execution.

How can generative AI and ML be used in electrical engineering?

Electrical engineering is the driving force behind the technologies that power our modern world, from the electricity that lights up our homes to the electronic devices that keep us connected. It is a broad field encompassing a range of sub-disciplines, including power generation and distribution, electronics, telecommunications, and control systems. 

Also: The best AI chatbots 

As society becomes more interconnected and energy-conscious, the role of electrical engineering is increasingly vital, and key challenges, such as renewable energy integration, data security, and automation, require innovative solutions. Generative AI and ML offer groundbreaking approaches for automating circuit design, optimizing energy management, and enhancing signal-processing techniques. These approaches will enable electrical engineers to create more efficient, reliable, and sustainable systems, which can shape a brighter future for us all.

Powering everything:

  • Circuit design: Platforms like Cadence and open-source tools like KiCad can automate and optimize electrical circuit design, saving time and effort.

  • Energy management: Solutions such as Verdigris for smart-building design and open-source platforms like OpenEnergyMonitor, and the various projects for energy providers hosted at LF Energy, can optimize energy generation and consumption, contributing to sustainability.

  • Signal processing: Commercial software such as MATLAB and open-source alternatives like GNU Radio can enhance signal-processing techniques, improving communication systems.

How can generative AI and ML be used in chemical engineering?

Chemical engineering plays a pivotal role in many industries, from pharmaceuticals and petrochemicals to food processing and materials science, involving the application of chemical, physical, and biological processes to convert raw materials into valuable products. Chemical engineers optimize manufacturing processes, develop sustainable energy solutions, and ensure product quality and safety. 

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As industries strive for greater efficiency, reduced environmental impact, and enhanced innovation, chemical engineering becomes increasingly crucial, demanding constant innovation to meet evolving consumer needs and regulatory standards. Generative AI offers chemical engineers unparalleled process optimization, material synthesis, and quality control capabilities, allowing them to achieve unprecedented efficiency and precision, driving the industry into a new era of sustainable and high-quality production.

Transforming raw materials:

  • Process optimization: Commercial technologies like AspenTech and open-source platforms like COCO Simulator can optimize chemical manufacturing processes.

  • Material synthesis: Commercial SaaS solutions such as Citrine Informatics and open-source tools like Avogadro can assist in discovering new materials.

  • Quality control: Companies such as Lighthouse, tools like Advantive InfinityQS, and open-source data science solutions like KNIME can be used to predict product quality in real time.

How can generative AI and ML be used in biomedical engineering?

Biomedical engineering is a unique interdisciplinary field that merges engineering principles with the complexities of biology and medicine, aiming to enhance health care by developing technologies that improve medical diagnosis, treatment, and patient care. From designing state-of-the-art medical devices like MRI machines and prosthetic limbs to developing cutting-edge techniques for tissue engineering and drug delivery, biomedical engineers are at the forefront of medical innovation. 

As the health care sector faces contemporary challenges, such as an aging global population, escalating healthcare expenses, and the growing demand for personalized medical treatments, Generative AI can be a highly transformative technology for pharmaceutical development and healthcare, offering unparalleled opportunities for accelerating drug discovery, customizing prosthetic designs, and enhancing medical imaging. 

Bridging medicine and technology:

  • Drug discovery: Commercial technologies like Atomwise and open-source platforms like RDKit for Cheminformatics can accelerate drug discovery by predicting molecular properties. Microsoft's recently open sourced EvoDiff can be used to discover protein sequences for new drugs and therapeutics.

  • Prosthetics design: Commercial tools like 3D Systems' Medical Modeling and open-source solutions such as Open Bionics can design customized prosthetics and implants.

  • Medical imaging: Commercial platforms such as Nanox AI and open-source tools like ITK Insight Toolkit can enhance medical image quality, aiding more accurate diagnoses.

How can generative AI and ML be used in aerospace engineering?

Aerospace engineering is a specialized field that focuses on developing and designing aircraft, spacecraft, and related systems and equipment. Aerospace engineers design commercial airliners, drones, satellites, launch vehicles, space capsules, and space habitats, working on complex challenges, including aerodynamics, propulsion systems, structural design, and navigation. They aim to push the boundaries of what is possible in air and space travel. 

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As humankind sets its sights on achieving lofty goals, such as space tourism and interplanetary colonization, the role of aerospace engineering becomes increasingly pivotal. The field, once only the domain for government agencies with megabudgets, is ripe for innovation, especially as it grapples with fuel efficiency, safety, and environmental sustainability issues. Generative AI offers novel solutions for optimizing aircraft designs, enhancing navigation systems, and improving fuel consumption.

Reaching for the skies:

  • Aircraft design: Siemens' NX and open-source platforms like OpenVSP can optimize aircraft component designs for weight, strength, and aerodynamics.

  • Navigation systems: Defense industry solutions from Northrop Grumman and open-source tools, such as ArduPilot and Dronecode, can enhance navigation and control systems.

  • Fuel efficiency: Honeywell's Forge and open-source solutions like JSBSim can optimize fuel consumption, contributing to sustainability.

How can generative AI and ML be used in environmental engineering?

Environmental engineering is a critical discipline that focuses on protecting and improving the natural environment for human health and ecological well-being. Environmental engineering encompasses a wide range of activities, from water treatment and waste management to air-quality control and renewable energy solutions. 

Also: Train AI models with your own data to mitigate risks

With pressing challenges, such as climate change, pollution, and resource depletion, the role of environmental engineering becomes increasingly vital, requiring innovative solutions to complex problems, and often involving interdisciplinary collaboration between scientists, policymakers, and community stakeholders. Generative AI is emerging as a powerful tool in this arena, offering cutting-edge solutions for optimizing waste management, modeling climate impacts, and efficiently utilizing natural resources, so engineers can develop more effective and sustainable strategies to safeguard our planet for future generations.

Saving the planet:


Generative AI and machine learning are more than just technological advancements -- they are driving changes in tooling, processes, and methodologies that are revolutionizing the engineering landscape. The unique ability of these technologies to optimize and accelerate processes across various engineering disciplines makes them indispensable for modern engineering disciplines. As such, the message for businesses and engineering leaders is clear: embrace generative AI to stay competitive and future-ready.

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