A.I. and I, semi-serious thoughts on artificial intelligence, project management and ethics

A.I. and I, semi-serious thoughts on artificial intelligence, project management and ethics

Giusi Meloni, President PMI North Italy

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 on a new meal… or should I write project?

The analogy with project management is rather evident, don’t you think? Planning, monitoring, controlling, and communications throughout.

However, 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 will only be just … a tool.
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.”

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 – 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 reflect 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. Here’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 hope that “this Code will ultimately be used to build upon and evolve our profession”.

Let us act to make this hope true.

Note: This article was originally published on ProjectManagement.com