Artificial Intelligence Ethics

In the Project Management and Civil Engineering Domains



By Bob Prieto

Chairman & CEO
Strategic Program Management LLC

Florida, USA


Artificial Intelligence (AI) enabled systems, machines and algorithms undertaking cognitive tasks raise a myriad of ethical issues. These range from ensuring that the AI enablement does not lead to direct or indirect harm to humans or the broader environment which we are part of. Broader ethical questions also arise with respect to the moral status of AI and creating AI more intelligent than humans. These later items are not addressed in this paper.

The primary perspectives in this paper are twofold. First, the management of large complex projects and the issues associated with use of the predictive capability of AI, primarily machine learning. Second, a civil engineering perspective, where AI may be employed in design and other optimizations.

A recurring question should arise as we consider the use of AI by both project managers and engineers. Should we require AI ethics just as we require engineering ethics for engineers?

This question and other related ones are being debated today around projects, taking place under the auspices of the IEEE Standards Association and their Global Initiative on Ethics of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems that aim to address ethical issues relating to the creation of autonomous and intelligent systems. Their good work is not repeated here.

In this paper we look at some broad categories of ethical concerns and questions which arise as we consider the use of AI in both the design of civil engineering projects and broadly in the management of large complex projects.

The broad categories we will consider include:

  • Completeness of AI ethical considerations
  • Quality and limits of training data
  • Hidden biases
  • Confirmation of appropriateness of use for selected AI
  • Diagnosis vs. design
  • Accountability for AI impacts
  • Validation and verification
  • User data rights

Completeness of AI ethical considerations

While the broader field of AI is placing greater attention on AI ethics, these considerations are receiving inadequate attention in the areas of project management as well as in the civil engineering design space.

The challenges posed by ethical considerations arise in project management as predictive analytics moves beyond prediction towards optimization of execution and recovery plans. Do the optimization algorithms AI enables take sufficient account of various areas of social responsibility? Is optimization merely around first cost and schedule or is around life cycle performance in cost, environmental and social dimensions?

Similarly, does AI enabled design optimization sufficiently consider safety during construction as well as operation and even eventual facility decommissioning? Does it consider a broad range of operating scenarios or environments or is its intended use case narrower than what we may perceive?

Operating systems such as water and wastewater treatment systems optimized by AI must understand the potential wide range of implications for public health and safety as well as environmental impact from operating environments outside both the training data and optimization scenario selected.

We have begun to think about some of these ethical consideration with respect to autonomous vehicles, but they grow in importance as our roads become more intelligent in their own right and active, system level participants in autonomous transportation.


To read entire paper, click here


How to cite this paper: Prieto, R. (2019). Artificial Intelligence Ethics in the Project Management and Civil Engineering Domains; PM World Journal, Vol. VIII, Issue VII, August. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/pmwj84-Aug2019-Prieto-artificial-intelligence-ethics-in-project-management-and-civil-engineering.pdf


About the Author

Bob Prieto

Chairman & CEO
Strategic Program Management LLC
Jupiter, Florida, USA



Bob Prieto is a senior executive effective in shaping and executing business strategy and a recognized leader within the infrastructure, engineering and construction industries. Currently Bob heads his own management consulting practice, Strategic Program Management LLC.  He previously served as a senior vice president of Fluor, one of the largest engineering and construction companies in the world. He focuses on the development and delivery of large, complex projects worldwide and consults with owners across all market sectors in the development of programmatic delivery strategies. He is author of nine books including “Strategic Program Management”, “The Giga Factor: Program Management in the Engineering and Construction Industry”, “Application of Life Cycle Analysis in the Capital Assets Industry”, “Capital Efficiency: Pull All the Levers” and, most recently, “Theory of Management of Large Complex Projects” published by the Construction Management Association of America (CMAA) as well as over 600 other papers and presentations.

Bob is an Independent Member of the Shareholder Committee of Mott MacDonald. He is a member of the ASCE Industry Leaders Council, National Academy of Construction, a Fellow of the Construction Management Association of America and member of several university departmental and campus advisory boards. Bob served until 2006 as a U.S. presidential appointee to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Business Advisory Council (ABAC), working with U.S. and Asia-Pacific business leaders to shape the framework for trade and economic growth.  He had previously served as both as Chairman of the Engineering and Construction Governors of the World Economic Forum and co-chair of the infrastructure task force formed after September 11th by the New York City Chamber of Commerce. Previously, he served as Chairman at Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB) and a non-executive director of Cardn0 (ASX)

Bob can be contacted at rpstrategic@comcast.net.