Technological advancements can make our jobs easier. They also pose the risk of replacing us; rendering our knowledge and capabilities obsolete in the face of massive stores of information and nanosecond retrieval. We’re already seeing this paradigm shift in the area of robotics, where people are being replaced in a number of industries by robots who can perform both complex and menial tasks quicker, with less risk and for less overall costs than their human counterparts.

But what about the burgeoning area of Artificial Intelligence (AI)? What does AI bode for the knowledge worker, especially in those areas that require “high-touch” such as project management?

Think about that for a second…

Already, the project management tools we use leverage complex algorithms and business intelligence to alert us to resource conflicts, suggest or automatically re-assign available resources to fix such conflicts, re-compile complex projects based on changing conditions, automatically generate scheduled reports, etc.

Get the picture?

Truth be told, until a computer can successfully pass a Turing Test, I think we’re a ways off from seeing knowledge workers being replaced by AI. But that doesn’t mean change isn’t already here or more change isn’t coming. The real question is “How will this change manifest itself?”

With respect to project management specifically, the knowledge worker role has already shifted from a data, computational and analytics one, to that of a systems translator.  As our project management tools evolve, the project manager’s role has changed into one which sets the base parameters, adjusts these based on real-world knowledge and deductive reasoning, and translates the resulting information into easy to understand reporting and intelligence for the project team and the project client.

For now, only a human can translate information into knowledge.

We give information its soul… Its ghost.

Take for example, Facebook’s recent decision to shut down its AI system due to the machines starting to develop their own language (a short-hand version of English) which only the machines could understand. An impressive feat – one that raises a host of questions ethically and otherwise – but for now demonstrates the current short comings of AI and its ability to translate information into knowledge (at least as we humans define the term).

Net net, project management customers need personal touch points. They need someone who understands the intricacies involved in project management and be able to translate information into actual knowledge and actionable intelligence the customer can act on. Or on a more basic level, simply someone to complain to, negotiate with or just plain hear them out.

Communication – high-touch and inter-personal communication – is where today’s knowledge worker holds the advantage over AI.  Will this always be the case?  Who knows? But for now, as project managers we can enjoy the fact technology has made our lives easier, not harder, and the risk of being replaced remains very low indeed.

Ghost in the Machine?“There are more connections in the human body than there are stars in the galaxy. We possess a gigantic network of information to which we have almost no access.”

~ Professor Norman – Lucy (2014)