An approach to ethics for Digital disruption projects

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Categories: Ethics, responsibility, respect, fairness, honesty, digital disruption, digital transformation, leadershipresearch

   THE PROJECT

George is a newly hired project manager. It was his dream to join the company, a start-up on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning in education. Working with digital disrupted technology was something he has waiting for a long time.

As a project manager, he is aware of the rise of these technologies and has decided to “get his feet wet” and develop his knowledge base with these concepts. In a recent read George become aware that according to Gartner 1, by 2020, AI will generate 2.3 million jobs, and  $2.9 trillion in business value by 2021. “AI is one of the most important things humanity is working on. It is more profound than […] electricity or fire”, indicates Google’s CEO2.

George is so ready to lead this project! Using the existing data base of client information, via a customer-centric approach, using AI and machine learning the client information will be analyzed, identifying patterns, and predictive capabilities to enrich and develop customized education products. With a global user-based audience the company is seeking to create long-lasting products that support, meet and exceed customers’ expectations.

 THE TEAM

The day of the kickoff meeting come, George met his team of data engineer, data scientist, infrastructure engineering, training specialists. The discussions were heated, as the project was very interesting, the deliverables were heavy, some of them a novelty in the field, but with strict and short deadlines as the company wanted to “break the ice” on the market with their products. The team was so excited, eager to apply knowledge and start the work. Right away they shared concerns towards the processes, the products to be created /delivered, and the impact on the users.

  ETHICAL QUESTIONS

(Source: pixabay.com)

During the meeting the team posed a variety of ethical questions related to how AI and machine learning impact the current and future of the project and the deliverables.

       Tom, the data engineer asked about the ethical considerations on this strategic project, and the role of the company’s leadership?

George recalled a recent issue on this topic of Brightline™  3 and he immediately shared the insights:

  • Humans, the team, the company, will always be in control despite the advanced technology used as they develop, implement these types of strategic projects and need to consider ethical aspects carefully; however, George called the team’s attention that cultural attitude is key barrier in strategy implementation;
  • Humans, the team, the company, are the ones thinking and assessing the needs, whereas the new technology (as the one used in this project) is an enabler, supporting humans to answer questions faster and more effectively; ethical awareness and knowledge of each team member is key.
  • The organization and its leaders will focus on strategy implementation and the technology selection process for their organization, considering the ethical aspects of the strategy, while scrutinizing the impacts of the technologies created. As there are many unknowns the team has been called to have open discussion regarding any ethical concerns they have or have been presented with. (Source:https://www.brightline.org/resources/the-brightline-initiative-is-exploring-how-humans-can-thrive-in-the-technological-age/) 4

(Source: pixabay.com)

The data scientist, the two software developers asked George if accessing the existing database of client information using AI and machine learning there are digital ethics and privacy concern, and how the users trust will be built, and maintained.

Personal information is sensitive and valuable, said George, and users may want access control over them. Fairness, trust, consent, protection of the individual privacy, the choice of users on how their information is to be used are just a few of the ethical aspects to be investigated.

The team engaged in the broader topic of digital ethics, how privacy and security are key elements in building trust.   The team will share best practices and be early adopters of the ones that support the needs of their project.

  ETHICAL PRINCIPLES 

(Source: pixabay.com)

The ethical quest continued on the ethical principles of the organization. George indicated that the journey of developing a digital ethical framework on the use of the disrupted technology is just in its early stages, as the company was moving from “are we compliant” toward “are we doing the right thing”, a bold move from compliance-driven organizations to ethics-driven organizations.

For defining the ethical principles of AI, on how AI is used in a fair and trust-building way, George suggested to the team a series of approaches, among which a European approach.The team agreed to continue the conversation for finding a model that support their organizational and project context. (Source: AI Finland: https://www.tekoalyaika.fi/en/background/ethics/ )5

  ETHICS RESOURCES

(Source: pixabay.com)

The entire team was eager to learn about the ethics resources in place.  George shared the company’s Code of Ethics, and reminded the team that responsibility, respect, fairness, and honesty 6 are the core values in their work; he has shared the compendium of PMI ethics resources 7 , including the practical tools of the Ethics in Project Management Toolkit 8.  It is George’s commitment to discuss ethics in each of the weekly meetings of the team and ensure that concerns are addressed, leadership is involved, and stakeholders are properly informed.

   MOVING FORWARD

(Source: pixabay.com)

The kick-off meeting was indeed one of a kind, as it was the project that everybody was so looking forward to advance. The team agreed to continue to engage in these conversations and support the organization throughout the development of the necessary policies, guidelines and tools that will bring run business ethically while addressing user needs and stakeholders’ expectations.

George realized that for this project ethics will be the status quo item on the agenda of the project team throughout the lifecycle of the project. As a project manager, he was ready to start his learning journey and take the team with him in developing their digital competencies, and project management skills and knowledge.

 LEARNING TOGETHER

(Source: pixabay.com)

Digital disrupted technology, digital transformation will result in more projects like this one or may be embedded as components of any other type of project, bringing ethics at the forefront of the discussion.

     

As a project manager, from your experience, what else could George do for his team to better support them to be “ethically equipped” during this interesting but challenging project?

What is the role of the team in all this time and what actions should they take?

How should the internal and external stakeholders be made aware and be involved?

As project managers what is our stance towards the four core values and how can we make sure that we do the right thing?

 

Thanks for sharing your insights and your experience.

 


DISCLAIMER: The names, roles in this story are fictional. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

GLOSSARY of TERMS:

  • Artificial Intelligence: the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages (Oxford Dictionary).
  • Digital Transformation: The use of new, fast and frequently changing digital technology to solve problems often utilising cloud computing (Wikipedia).
  • Digital Disruption: The change that occurs when new digital technologies and business models affect the value proposition of existing goods and services (Searchcio.com).
  • Disrupted Technology One that displaces an established technology and shakes up the industry or a ground-breaking product that creates a completely new industry.

SOURCES of INFORMATION:

  1. https://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom
  2. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/02/01/google-ceo-sundar-pichai-ai-is-more-important-than-fire-electricity.html
  3. https://www.brightline.org/about/
  4. https://www.brightline.org/resources/the-brightline-initiative-is-exploring-how-humans-can-thrive-in-the-technological-age/)
  5. https://www.tekoalyaika.fi/en/background/ethics/
  6. https://www.pmi.org/-/media/pmi/documents/public/pdf/ethics/pmi-code-of-ethics.pdf
  7. https://www.pmi.org/about/ethics/resources
  8. https://www.pmi.org/about/ethics/resources/toolkit
Posted by Lily Murariu on: August 08, 2019 10:32 AM | Permalink

Comments (12)

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Interesting Post and information, thank you for sharing Lily.

Lily, a very interesting post. The new age of digital disruption seems to challenge the ethics.

I guess George has done the right things. He could probably provide more resources to ensure some context specific questions are addressed or thought of if not done already.
What is the role of the team in all this time and what actions should they take? This will help them increase ethical awareness. Ethics in the times of digital disruption is not easy and a brainstorming session can be helpful.


I guess the team is quite mature and capable of understanding of these challenges. They would like to contribute to the risks and challenges and will benefit from it.


Just my two cents....Thank you for helping with the links for your extensive research in creating this thoughtful and contemporary article.

@Deepa, thank you kindly for your comments. Indeed, a project manager for such a project is not only on a learning journey him/herself but also is on a discovery journey with his team.
There are some national initiatives on AI and more and more we will discuss about embedding AI in our projects and treating ethical matters in a more comprehensive manner.
Development of standards, ethical frameworks will all help in increasing ethical awareness and preparing us as project managers for better leading this type of projects.

Happy to know that the sources of information are useful. Thank you, dear Deepa.

Very interesting, thanks for sharing

Very interesting post, Lily! Its never easy for any org to move from 'are we compliant' to 'are we doing the right thing'. In my opinion, regular discussion among the team leads to learning as how to do the right thing combined with the knowledge of ethics principles and toolkit. Thanks for sharing!

@Alankar, thank you for your feedback. Indeed, in this case the project manager will need to engage the project team in a continuous learning journey where senior management, legal office, and many other corporate offices will need to support the team and work together with them in ensuring that they do the right thing and they set the organization for success.

Amazing read, thanks for sharing

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