Human Ingenuity

Flash Interview with Luís Alberto Almeida

Call To Imagination — Jun 2024

C — Describe an invention you would like to create if you had no limits to your execution capabilities.

LAA — Everybody hates traffic, so I’ve always thought about intelligent road and car systems, where vehicles would be able to "talk" to each other and the infrastructure. This network would allow them to share generic information about their speed, direction, location, as well as unexpected events. For instance, if a car finds a sudden stop or an accident, it would share this information with other nearby vehicles and the road system, which would then dynamically adjust traffic signals, alert drivers, adjust navigation systems, etc., similar to the way air traffic is controlled.

There are several benefits to a system like this: reduce the number of accidents, shorten travel times, optimize traffic flow, improve fuel efficiency, find optimized routes for urgent situations, and reduce impact to the environment. Of course, there major challenges like privacy and security, infrastructure costs, standardization between car manufacturers, and regulations, but it’s nothing that a team of engineers, a big budget, and some litters of coffee can’t handle!

C — Tell us about a futuristic vision of how IT projects will be in the future.

LAA — I can see a future where AI agents and personas play an active role in IT projects, changing the way they are planned, managed, and executed. These "intelligent" agents will not only handle common and repetitive tasks but also actively participate in discussions, provide expert insights, and work together with real people. They will be given responsibilities and expected deliverables like any other person, engage in stand-up meetings, provide updates on progress, identify blockers, and coordinate with other team members. Certainly, they won't replace people, but they'll provide an army of resources to improve the way we work. Who knows, maybe they will even help writing documentation, because it's about time someone (or something) shows up and actually enjoy doing that!

We are already seeing aspects of this today, with AI being applied to many daily tasks: automate customer support through chatbots, helping in writing code, testing software. I’m also seeing them participating in virtual meetings to help track attendance, transcribe meetings, capture and share notes. I guess this futuristic vision is not a matter of if, but when.

C — Imagine this: a client appoints a virtual voice assistant in GenAI to manage the project. How would you handle this situation?

LAA — Since we're not yet in our futuristic reality yet, it's important to understand the capabilities and limitations of such an AI tool. While I see a virtual voice assistant being able to improve efficiency and support different topics related with project management, I don't believe they will be able to make critical decisions as we expect from Project Managers.  Decision-making and leadership require a level of empathy, strategic thinking, and the ability to inspire and guide a team, which are things a virtual assistant cannot do. True leadership involves understanding team dynamics, motivating individuals, and making decisions that consider the human aspects of a project.

Having said that, if the client decided to use a virtual assistant to manage a project, I'd definitely use it as a helpful tool, as it's great at analyzing data and keeping track of tasks. But I would also recommend nominating a person to take over the responsibility of the project, handle unexpected challenges, take decisions, and be accountable for the project's results.

C — Which legacy engineering piece still surprises you today? Why?

LAA — I've always been amazed by GPS (Global Positioning System), that was created by U.S. military way back in the 70s. Today, we cannot live without it, but every time I open Waze, I can't help but remember the old days, when I would use those big, folded road maps or print out directions from MapQuest.

GPS has really transformed navigation and location-based services, supporting things we rely on a daily basis and are critical to us as a society. GPS guides planes and ships, helps emergency services locate us quickly, enables food delivery, supports ride-sharing services, allows us to navigate unfamiliar cities. It also tracks our workouts, helps us find our lost keys, and even assists in catching that rare Pikachu hiding in the backyard. Remember the Pokémon Go craze?

What is particularly remarkable about GPS is how it's kept up with the times. Despite being created more than five decades ago, it has continuously evolved to meet the challenges of modern times. It was a brilliant piece of engineering back then, but the new ways we use it now are pretty impressive too, and a proof to human ingenuity.

C — What advice would you give on dealing with a disastrous, impossible-to-implement idea from a client?

LAA — Customers are not there trying to deliberately make our life hard; they are seeking solutions to solve real problems. But to solve a problem, we need to understand it first. So, I would start exploring the motivations behind the customer's request, including their goals, expected benefits and desired results.

With that, I would do a feasibility check, evaluating the idea from technical, financial, and operational perspectives. This allows me to highlight specific reasons why the idea is impractical, based on facts rather than opinions. Additionally, I would offer alternative solutions that could achieve similar objectives to what was proposed.

Working together with the customer this way, he would feel involved and part of the process, creating a solution that we both would see as feasible and realistic.

C — What technological "foundations" need to be built to let the imagination run wild in future IT projects? Give examples, using your imagination.

LAA — AI has come so far, so fast, it's almost like watching a sci-fi movie in real time. It's something I would never have expected a couple of years ago, but to reach the next level, we need a second and third wave: smarter algorithms, more adaptable AI agents, reduced dependency on training data (large amounts of it), and so on. While doing this, we need to keep ethics as a priority to avoid creating biased or unfair systems. The ultimate goal is AGI, an AI that can "think", learn and understand like we do.

Another thing I have great expectations for is quantum computers. We're reaching the limits of Moore's Law in classical computing, which means that our capability to create new processors that improve over the previous generation is becoming more and more difficult. And we're in a phase where we need more computational power in IT, not less, due to the increasing complexity of applications and the sheer volume of data. So, I believe quantum computing has the potential to bring a major revolution in many areas like AI, cloud computing, big data analysis, simulations, security and others.

To finish the list: after COVID-19, the global shift towards remote work made us see that we could work in different ways, but after the cool down, it highlighted limitations, mainly related with the social interactions, the sense of connection and belonging, how we discuss and brainstorm ideas, etc. So, we need to rethink how we connect and engage with each other. This is where immersive collaboration tools like Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) come into play, to enable remote teams to work together in a shared virtual space, that can create more interactive and familiar virtual environments. There has been past work on this topic, even by Celfocus, but the recent rise of AI has shifted our focus for now. While the technology may not have been mature enough back then, it's something we'll need to revisit in the future. Maybe not tomorrow, but definitely down the road.