Five project management stories you shouldn’t have missed this month

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Elon Musk unveils plan to build his own AI ‘human brain’

Elon Musk’s latest project is to replicate the human brain using artificial intelligence (AI). His venture, OpenAI, aims to build a new kind of AI, Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) that would match – or even surpass, the cognitive abilities of humans.

Whether the idea terrifies or excites you, the project is a go. OpenAI has just received a $1bn investment from Microsoft, with the two organisations working together on supercomputers to make AGI a reality. Once it’s built and working, OpenAI would commercialise the technology through Microsoft. It could be Star Trek or The Terminator – only time will tell.

Bexhill colonnade project fails – then succeeds

Councillors for Rother District Council, which covers Bexhill, have been at the centre of a row surrounding the £288,000 renovation of the seaside town’s iconic colonnade restaurant. Questions were asked at the council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee after it was reported that the newly opened project had made a loss of more than £56,000 within its first 10 weeks of trading.

However, the council released a report outlining the longer term gains of the refurb project, which paints a far rosier picture. The value of the building has increased by £165,000 and council rental income will increase by £39,000 a year. With a bullet dodged the council is now doing a bit of soul-searching, reviewing its current project management processes.

“The conclusions of the paper, the lessons learnt, I think fall short,” said Cllr Christine Bayliss (Lab, Bexhill Central). “We should be looking more at the culture of project management and what our methodology is...It seems from the conclusions that the income is exceeding expenditure, but it was a long drawn out process where we suffered a loss of reputation out there with the general public.”

Calais-to-Dover hoverboard project flops (into the middle of the Channel)

Franky Zapata, former jet-ski champion, wanted to make history. The plan was to cross the English Channel using his invention, the Flyboard – a sort of cross between a jetpack and the hoverboard from Back to the Future. "We created a new way of flying. We don't use wings. You are like a bird, it is your body that is flying. It is a boyhood dream," he told reporters before the attempt.

Zapata claimed the Flyboard could make the journey in 20-minutes, travelling at an average speed of 87mph, 15-20m above the water. Crowds gathered at the beach in Sangatte, near Calais, on the morning of the 25th July. Zapata took off without any issues and disappeared from view. Minutes later, it was announced the attempt had failed – Zapata fell into the water while attempting to refuel.

Zapata’s very disappointed team expressed their disbelief at the failure, having worked so hard on the project to prepare for his moment of triumph. "He must have missed the platform by just a few centimetres,” said a member of his team. "We practiced this manoeuvre dozens of times in heavier seas.

Hawaiian alien-hunting telescope project may desecrate sacred volcano

The $1.4bn Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project, to be located at the summit of the dormant Mauna Kea volcano in Hawaii, could help answer the question: are we alone in the universe? So says Roy Gal, an associate astronomer at the University of Hawaii.

The project aims to create a telescope so powerful that scientists can take measurements of the atmospheres of Earth-size planets in habitable zones around distant stars. "We will see if those planets' atmospheres have water and molecules that could be due to biological activity,” said Gal.

However, Mauna Kea is a temple to native Hawaiians, seen as a connection between creation and creator. Protests have sprung up around the project as a result, with 33 arrested after protesters blocked access to the building site.

"The Mauna Kea is recognised as the home of several deities all of whom are associated with water," said Noelani Goodyear-Kaopua, a professor of political science focusing on indigenous and native Hawaiian politics. "They are embodied in the forms of precipitation that surround the mountain."

The two opposing groups are at a stalemate.

New project aims to unlock the secrets of the human embryo

The UK-based Human Development Biology Initiative (HDBI) aims to build a detailed picture of how cells in a human embryo divide and specialise in the first 20 weeks after fertilisation. It is hoped that this will give some insight as to why birth defects occur.

It’s a slightly ground-breaking project. Currently, very few UK laboratories have access to human embryo tissue samples, and it has been historically difficult to gather insights on what are complex genetic and environmental issues.

The five-year programme will involve scientists from University College London, the Francis Crick Institute, the Babraham Institute, the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge, the University of Dundee and the University of Newcastle. “By understanding what is 'normal' in development we will be able to see how things can go wrong, offering new avenues for research. In addition, the insights from this work could help regenerative medicine reach its full potential," said Professor Rick Livesey, one of the lead researchers on the project.

Mark Rowland

Posted by Mark Rowland on 31st Jul 2019

About the Author

Mark Rowland is a senior writer on the Project editorial team. He has worked as a business journalist and editor for 15 years, and has won awards for his writing and editing. He has also worked in project and product management, overseeing the launch and continuous development of new websites and publications. Project is the official journal of the Association for Project Management (APM).

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