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How the BBC is approaching AI in projects

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Laura Ellis is Head of Technology Forecasting at the BBC and a speaker at the APM Conference 2024, where she will address the question, ‘Where’s the value in people?’. The plan is to uncover the optimal balance between skilled project professionals’ experience and data analytics skills when making project decisions.  

How can the two work best together to achieve project success? And should analytics skills be considered an enabler or core to a project professional’s role?  

We spoke to Ellis to find out more about her work at the BBC and what she thinks project professionals need to know about artificial intelligence (AI).

What does your role as Head of Technology Forecasting encompass?

Many things! I have two wonderful teams, one of which promotes and supports the innovative work we do in BBC R&D and the other researches emerging technology and works with the BBC and external teams to talk about where the technology challenges and opportunities lie, and how we might address them. 

I also take an interest in AI, generative AI and data, and work closely with other teams in the BBC to ensure that our work in these and other emerging technology areas is linked up effectively.

What kind of projects are you working on at the BBC?

I take a special interest in disinformation, working on a project called ‘Origin’, which puts signals from a standards body called the Coalition for Content Provenance and Authenticity into media content. 

This helps people consuming news or other content in our huge and confusing media ecosystem to understand where it has come from and how it has been made. I’m also part of the team working on generative AI pilots.

What's your take on AI? What would be a wise way for project professionals to think about it?

It’s a great tool if you use it responsibly, even if it sometimes feels a bit overwhelming. There’s an adage that your job won’t be taken by AI, it’ll be taken by someone using AI better than you (I’m paraphrasing). AI, and generative AI in particular, is not something we can ignore. We need to work together in society to ensure that we get the right regulation, operate responsible practices and communicate with customers and clients.

What should project professionals be doing to be part of the AI conversation at work and to get involved?

Read articles and listen to podcasts — the more you know, the better off you’ll be! Stage discussions, formally and informally, and find out what your colleagues think and how they believe AI should be used. If a meeting is summarised by a tool like Otter.ai or Microsoft Copilot, how do we ensure our colleagues know how it’s been used? And are they happy with the way they’re being represented?

How are you using AI in your role or on your projects?

Carefully! We have started to work out where we might best use it — either as a backroom tool for summarisation, research, organisation information or adding new value and helping us tell stories from large datasets. The multi-modal (image, text, voice, video) of the newer models offers us the chance to provide, say, written summaries of voiced reports where we couldn’t before, which might be used to enrich our audience offer.

What does the future hold for the BBC when it comes to AI?

I hope we can be leaders in the deployment of AI responsibly and for human good. This may look different in the variety of areas we might see it operate — education, entertainment, business — but the principles of fairness, responsibility with data and protection of the human creative spirit are common themes.

Is tech forecasting dominated by AI or are there other important developments that project professionals should be thinking about?

Robotics, linked to AI, will increasingly have an impact on our working lives and society, hopefully in those dirty, heavy jobs that humans struggle with. They’re getting smarter and more capable. 

Agents (again driven by AI) will link together the kind of tasks we’re seeing ChatGPT and its ilk handle. This means we can start to deploy our currently quite rudimentary online assistants in vastly superior ways — have a look at the Rabbit R1. Quantum computing will shift the way we handle, secure and communicate our information. Data use, stewardship and privacy will all be strengthening themes. 

The APM Conference 2024, ‘Navigating Tomorrow: Future Skills for Project Professionals’, will take place on 5–6 June 2024 at Coventry Building Society Arena. Book your place. 

 

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