Taking Charge — Episode 1

Marie Cornwall had a distinguished career as an engineering faculty member and department chair at one of the top universities in the US.  Her specialty was decision making under risk.  She had published widely on this topic and was frequently sought for consulting engagements, as well as prestigious advisory boards.  From the perspectives of her colleagues, friends, and children, Marie had it made.

But she was restless.  Her children were long gone, off on their own successful careers.  Her husband, much older than her, has sadly passed away several years ago.  She needed a new challenge.  This aspiration intersected with the needs of Beresford Institute of Technology (BIT) located on the Hudson River in Tipton, NY, half way between New York City and Albany.  BIT was looking for a new president.  The chair of their Board of Trustees, a Frenchman and former university president himself, simply charmed her into taking the job.

She had started last Fall, feeling the thrill of a new academic year mixed with Fall colors, which came early at Tipton, and homecoming parades.  This was what academia is supposed to be like.  But, George is not feeling the warmth.  He is her artificially intelligent cognitive assistant that the computer science faculty at her former university had created for her.

George consumed enormous amounts of data and made inferences and predictions that often astounded Marie.  Equally impressive, after a few years of working with Marie, he really knew her workflows, contacts, calendar, and preferences.  This included knowing what kinds of lines of reasoning worked with her.  He knew how to appeal to her emotions, both the positive and the negative.  He knew before she did when she had reached the last straw.  He protected her.

The transition to Beresford had a few glitches.  The biggest one was George.  What is his last name?  Marie, with no time to reflect, quickly said Turing.  Where did she want his office located?  He will not need an office.  He works remotely, always has.  What is his salary?  I pay him from my private foundation.  Will he need secure access to BIT’s information infrastructure?  Yes.  Cannot do this without an official appointment.  OK.  Make him a Senior Fellow in the Office of the President.  That works.

Marie felt she was being deceptive, but she was not yet ready to tell the staff she was inheriting that her most trusted advisor is an AI-based cognitive assistant.  George was hungry to sleuth through BIT’s data.  This was complicated by each IT system requiring separate credentials.  George knew how to get around these problems, but it risked being sensed as a cybersecurity threat, which would create more hurdles.  George proceeded very cautiously.

After the first month at BIT, Marie and George scheduled an “offsite” to review what he had found.  Of course, everything with George was off site, but Marie needed something to put on the President’s office calendar to gain the time for this.  Marie had quickly learned that her time was not longer her own.  Her calendar filled completely with none of the time slots filled by her.

“So, what have you learned, George?” Marie asked.

“There are an enormous number of inconsistencies among the various data systems.”

“What are the implications?”

“You are either in reasonably good financial shape, or on the verge of a financial crisis.”


Well, one system accrues revenue as soon as you have billed students or sponsors, while another only counts revenue that has actually been received, that is, cash in hand.”

“Isn’t that easily resolved?”

“The people using each system are assuming that the folks using the other system are accounting for revenue just as they are.”

“So, a mutual delusion, that yields either good outcomes or a looming crisis?”

“That’s right.”

“How should we fix this?”

“Switching my data hound hat to my organizational behavior hat, I think we need to be a bit subtle.”

“In what way?”

“We need to get them to discover the inconsistency and fix it without telling you.”

“Why can’t I know?”

“Because somebody will have to be blamed, not by you, but by the organization’s social system.”

“How are we going to pull this off?”

“We need allies besides you and me.”

“Who do you suggest?”

“I have read the annual reviews of every employee over the past ten years. I suggest we recruit Brad McCarthy in IT and Mary Romano in Finance.”

“Based just on their annual reviews?”

“Of course not, I reviewed their social media pages, ranging from Facebook to LinkedIn, as well as various other sources.”

“Well, we probably cannot go wrong in New York with an Irishman and an Italian.”

“Actually, you can go very wrong, but not with these two people.”

“OK, you have never failed me on these kinds of issues.  Let’s get them aboard.”

“I have never failed you on anything, have I?”

“No, just a figure of speech.  Sorry.”

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