Artificial Intelligence: evolution or existential threat?
While the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) was already underway, COVID-19 dramatically accelerated its use and adoption in workplaces globally. Whether AI proves to be a tool for human learning and advancement, promoting broader economic access and inclusion, or a technology that replaces and excludes them is up to us.
By examining the impacts of digital disruption, climate crisis, demographic and economic shifts, labour shortages and civil, civic and equality movements, a clear picture emerges in which, disruptive technologies, including AI, present humans either a threat or an opportunity to build a better, more inclusive and efficient global working environment.
Following the publication of the Megatrends report, PMI assembled insight from thought leaders and partner organisations observing the impact of these trends on real workplaces, project managers and people around the world.
McKinsey, for example, reports that in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rate at which companies introduced digital products and services advanced by six years in North America, seven years in Europe, and over ten years in Asia-Pacific.
In Africa where only half of the population uses the internet and less than a quarter shop online, COVID-19 is expected to increase the number of mobile internet users by 100 million over the next three years. By 2025 it is expected that Africa will have 475 million digitally active citizens.
The pandemic greatly accelerated an expansion of digital technologies, especially tools to enable online collaboration and remote work. COVID-19 also saw a concerted effort across the world to introduce technologies like cloud computing, IoT and AI to enhance the customer experience, boost employee efficiency and improve project outcomes.
Significantly, PMI’s own Pulse of the Profession report on maximising the benefits of disruptive technologies recorded that a vast majority of high performing organisations indicate that the adoption of disruptive technologies, including Al, has in fact helped them meet or exceed business objectives.
While it is expected that organisations will continue to invest in AI to augment skills like decision-making, risk management, data analysis and knowledge management, if and when AI proves capable of replacing human-like intelligence is a subject of much debate and speculation.
In November 2021, Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, joined by former United Sates Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and MIT computer scientist Daniel Huttenlocher, suggested that humans should not seek to either defer to AI, or resist it. Instead, humans should focus on shaping AI with human values, including the dignity and moral agency of humans.
From a project management perspective, the meaningful application of AI requires that organisations at minimum invest in acquiring or training IT and data specialists.
Importantly, however, organisations need to develop a clear AI strategy that will allow this technology to truly transform the business, by reshaping it differently – and in a human way.
According to Ade McCormack who helps organisations around the world transform for the digital age, technology isn’t enough if the business model is no longer fit for purpose. Leaders can’t expect to simply sprinkle your old business model with the latest technologies. We need to move beyond the industrial era, process-driven factory model to thrive in this increasingly disruptive age.
Critically, as organisations pivot to AI they should focus on managing the human-AI interface in a way that augments human capability, that allows more humans to participate in the global economy.
As such, protecting the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data which is the raw material that fuels the expansion of disruptive technologies like AI – is essential to maintaining human confidence in AI as manageable tool.
In this sense, as with all human tools developed to date, how we use technology in general and AI in particular, will need to be actively shaped by ourselves.
It is our choice whether AI replaces and excludes humans - or becomes a powerful tool to augment individual human capability and deepen collective global economic inclusion.
The Global Megatrends report highlights the need for a fundamental change in the way we live, work and play. The future, an era of no normal for project managers, requires a new type of intelligence to deal with this change and new competencies. Upskilling digital intelligence is a good place to start.