If you’ve been tracking the statements of Professor Stephen Hawking over the last few years, then you’ll know that the famous scientist has labelled artificial intelligence (AI) as “either the best or worst thing” for humanity.
Thanks to Hollywood antics, with productions such as The Terminator and Westworld depicting how AI can go astray, in the public eye there’s an aura of uncertainty attached to the development of the technology as it becomes increasingly more sophisticated.
While this concern falls within good reason, there are also definitive upsides to the progression of AI, a notion which Scott Middleton, CEO of Australian startup Stratejos has recognised.
Pushing the scope of project management and AI predictions, Stratejos is an AI smart assistant that rapidly processes data in project management softwares, such as Atlassian’s JIRA, to provide the user with feedback about how their work is progressing, how it can be improved, and predict how it may go wrong.
“It’s like employing an assistant that is really good at maths and statistics, and can crunch that data and statistics really fast and have them update you on how things are doing and predict if things are going to go wrong, then try to fix that,” Middleton explained.
“It’s not a sentient AI that’s smarter than us, but an AI that can do all the basic things with data and analyse it.”
Development of the algorithm behind Stratejos begun roughly a year ago when Middleton was working for another tech business; he recognised a need for a system to help manage projects, particular when multiple projects were being juggled at once.
“It sort of spun out of scratching our own itch,” Middleton said.
Currently, the AI functions as a plugin for a number of project management tools including JIRA, Hipchat, and soon Slack, as the founder said they were the most accessible to develop towards. Integration with other platforms such as Microsoft Project and Basecamp is on the agenda.
Once the user has added the Stratejos plugin, they are able to select which projects they want the AI to monitor, input key information such as the project’s budget, and adjust how often the AI will contact them.
As the AI runs in the background analysing the data, the user can continue working on their projects freely. If the algorithm detects a current problem with the project, predicts a potential future issue or has advice to offer regarding progress, it will inform the user via the project tool’s chat functions. Stratejos can also email the user and send them a push notification to their phone if they have the compatible project tool app.
Having bootstrapped the startup’s development, Middleton said funding proved a challenge, particularly when it came to developing the AI, which requires data to build and money to acquire.
“You’re caught in this chicken and egg situation where you’re bootstrapped but you need to get the data,” Middleton said.
That’s not to say Stratejos is working completely without assistance, however, as the startup was able to secure a $50,000 grant from the Australian Government’s Innovations Connections Program this month to work beside Deakin University and expand their AI algorithm.
With the funding and external expertise key to continuing the build of the AI, Middleton matched the funding with an additional $50,000 of his own money to secure the grant.
“We recognised that to really take our game to the next level, we needed to involve a brains trust; we had to get people who are at the top of their game in AI and the academic side of managing projects,” said Middleton.
Professor John Grundy will be leading the team at Deakin University and will work towards what the startup founder described as a medium-long term goal of developing an AI that can adapt and change based on how different organisations work, and learn the subtleties of each project and organisation.
“It will be able to know what’s working on any new type of project without human intervention. At the moment we have to update the algorithms to understand projects,” said Middleton.
He said that getting ahead of the “inevitable trend” of AI becoming an intricate part of world industries is also an important task. As pointed out by Middleton, Bank of America Merrill Lynch has predicted there will be US$9 trillion dollars worth of impact on knowledge work.
While that figure does seem high, many reports have predicted that AI will indeed progressively begin to automate administrative and judgement based tasks over a medium-long term period.
According to a report issued by Research and Markets in November, the global AI industry is expected to be worth 6.06 billion by 2022, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 62.9 percent from 2016 to 2022.
Understanding the potential of AI, the Stratejos CEO has great hopes for the future of the business. Middleton said he wants to place a strong focus on perfecting the current AI product that the startup has developed, stating that the Deakin University project collaboration should wrap up by June next year.
“It’s about nailing the product we provide and gaining really strong traction in that market,” Middleton said.
Image: Scott Middleton. Source: Supplied.