The future ain’t what it used to be – Yogi Berra
Is Ikenga, your Project Manager Robot, going to be your best friend because it completes your project initiatives on time, budget and quality over and over again? Time will tell what ultimately happens, but make up your mind and get ready for the next technology evolution that can significantly change the ground rules of the way we do business today. The application of artificial intelligence and robot technology in day-to-day business operations is rapidly moving ahead and already changing the DNA of certain industries. Don’t let it get ahead of you, but instead understand the possible implications, benefits and opportunities for personal development and growth.
The main reason why artificial intelligence and robot technology are evolving rapidly is because computation power has reached a level where it is cost effective and able to deal near real-time with massive amounts of data. A front-runner in this area is IBM with Watson, a cognitive computing solution that is able to answer questions and therefore assist humans in making informed decisions.
In their book Second Machine Age (2014), Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson explain the characteristics of and differences between the First and Second Machine Age. Over 200 years ago in the First Machine Age, muscle power was gradually being replaced by machines, starting with the steam engine, followed by electricity and other inventions. In the Second Machine Age, wherein we live today and are just at the beginning, knowledge power is gradually being replaced by machines.
There are three forces behind the Second Machine Age: exponential, digital, and combinatorial. Moore’s law enabled the exponential growth, meaning the doubling of computing power every 18 months. This constant doubling has delivered the advances we see today of which many appeared after 2006. The digital force brought us to the big data model that allows us to collect, process, store and utilize structured and unstructured content in massive volumes. The combinatorial force is the innovative power of humans to combine technologies in a way that was not possible before, because of limitations for example in computation power. The driver-less car, Siri, 3D printing, robots are examples of key technological advances of the recent past that are a result of the combinatorial force.
According to Carl Benedikt Frey and Micheal A. Osborne (Oxford University, 2013), routine intensive occupations could be susceptible to computerization over the next two decades. That in itself is not new, because for example in the automotive industry robots have been used for more than a decade. But what is new is the exposure to the services industry. Routine service tasks that are being done by humans today, may be done by robots or other forms of artificial intelligence tomorrow. The researchers speak about jobs in transportation, logistics, as well as office and administrative support. They estimated that 47% of total US employment is at risk. Occupations that require a high level of creative and social intelligence have relatively low risk of being impacted.
What this means is that artificial intelligence and robotics will also enter the professional service industry. Law Times (2014) wrote about the implications for law firms. They mention that Law firms will see nearly all their routine process work undertaken by artificial intelligence, completely changing the traditional associate leverage model. It is primarily the work being done by paralegals and junior lawyers who perform a lot of work that’s fairly tedious.
Pessimists would likely think that the continued evolution of artificial intelligence could end human life as we know it. Optimists would embrace the evolution as an opportunity and see a shift of focus by humans to the more analytical, conceptual and value add tasks, where a high level of creativity, pattern recognition and collaboration is required.
From an optimistic perspective, what can the evolution mean for the Project Manager? Or in other words, what can be some of the tasks that Ikenga can take on?
As I am trying to answer these questions, I realize that a substantial part of project management is non-routine. In many of the process areas of the PMBOK – Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMI), a high level of creativity, pattern recognition and collaboration is required. Perhaps it is because projects, contrary to business operations, are temporary and unique endeavors focused on accomplishing a singular goal . Having said that, projects do create deliverables, lessons learned and other historical content that can be leveraged in similar projects in the future. So projects are creating an enormous amount of big data that can be utilized by using artificial intelligence and robots. With that notion I think that Ikenga can assist the Project Manager as an Expert with the more routine activities like cost estimation, scheduling, and risk planning, but also once there is an approved, detailed plan and schedule available do the greater part of status reporting. Don’t you see Ikenga walking around the project floor seeking input from team leads on deliverable status?
Bas de Baat
Program Manager Enterprise Applications