A.I. and I (semi-serious thoughts on artificial intelligence, project management and ethics)
by Giusi Meloni, PMP, CSM, past EMAG Chair
My new microwave has arrived. It asks me whether I would like to cook or defrost and what type of food I’m preparing. It offers me an option to set time and temperature but it also comfortingly suggests that, should I provide more information, it can plan the meal to be ready when and how I want it, don’t you worry.
It happily chirps when it is half done and celebrates with a festive jingle to inform me that the food is ready. Furthermore, it takes a little time to cool off before it starts a new meal… or should I write project?
The analogy with project management, and good project management, is quite strong, I do think. Planning, monitoring, controlling, even lessons learned at the end. And communications throughout.
In a recent interview Jack Ma, founder and president of Alibaba, said that when it comes to tasks like calculation, machines will always "do better”. Coming from a strong humanities background, I certainly agree and appreciate the opportunity to delegate calculations to more proficient humans or machines. While I fluctuate from mildly curious to fascinated on “how” it is done, I recently focused my attention on “what” is being processed, namely the data we humans willingly feed to the machines.
I will not enter here the discussion on our unwilling and/or unaware contribution to big data and concentrate instead on the project environment.
Let’s go back to my new microwave: its “planning” functions are based on the assumptions that we humans know what we want, that we give the necessary answers and the answers we give are correct. My microwave “assumes” my competence and honesty.
Can you assume the same of your project stakeholders?
If not, even the most sophisticated and “intelligent” tool for data gathering and analysis might not be enough. My microwave and its gently probing questions is an ordinary example of how A.I. might exploit some of the most common project management tools to acquire and manage project information. Knowledge management models also offer various techniques to elicit knowledge and share it, which might be enhanced by A.I. Tools, however, are only tools: the magic ingredient, the “difference that makes the difference” is how they are used.
Arthur C. Clarke, the science fiction author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, wrote: “Whether we are based on carbon or on silicon makes no fundamental difference; we should each be treated with appropriate respect.”
Respect is one of the four tenets of the PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct and it is defined as “our duty to show a high regard for ourselves, others, and the resources entrusted to us. Resources entrusted to us may include people, money, reputation, the safety of others, and natural or environmental resources.”
The Code continues specifying “An environment of respect engenders trust, confidence, and performance excellence by fostering mutual cooperation - an environment where diverse perspectives and views are encouraged and valued.”
It is our behaviour, the example we set as project managers that will make the greatest difference in a project, not only the tool we choose but the choices we make in our daily activities.
We always have a choice between nurturing respect… or not: to ask - or not - the extra question that might clarify the stakeholders' expectation; to stop – or not – a rumour; to make - or not - a nasty remark during a meeting; to listen - or not - to different points of view.
We also have a choice on how we want to relate to A.I. In 1997 World chess champion Garry Kasparov lost a game against Deep Blue, an IBM supercomputer. In an interesting Ted Talk, he reflects on A.I. and concludes: “We should not worry about what our machines can do today. Instead, we should worry about what they still cannot do today, because we will need the help of the new, intelligent machines to turn our grandest dreams into reality (…) Our humanity is not defined by any skill, like swinging a hammer or even playing chess. there's one thing only a human can do. That's dream. So let us dream big.”
The Project Managers who wrote the PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct expressed the vision that “this Code will ultimately be used to build upon and evolve our profession”.
Let us act to make this vision true.