Artificial intelligence has Silicon Valley pouring billions of dollars into cognitive computing technology — Google, Microsoft, and Apple included. So it should come as no surprise that business schools are exploring AI with its pioneers.
“Our role in business education is to help our students….Manage the complexity that comes from a more AI-driven world,” says Amaury de Buchet, affiliate professor of entrepreneurship and innovation at ESCP Europe Business School.
Schools are searching for revenue-generating opportunities to harness the power of AI.
At HEC Paris in France, MBA students have explored business opportunities with IBM’s Watson, the supercomputer that Benoit Banchereau, the business school’s director of development says has “revolutionized artificial intelligence”.
“The objective was to integrate Watson technology with business applications,” he says.
Steve Munson used to manage a cloud data center for EMC, the data storage maker bought by Dell for $63 billion. So when the opportunity to monetize cognitive computing cropped up, the tech whizz jumped at it.
He says Hult International Business School MBAs were tasked with “new ways to leverage IBM’s Watson and its cognitive computing capabilities to create revenue generating business opportunities”.
“The project was invaluable,” Steve says. His team pitched their idea for cognitive computing in the travel industry to board-level executives.
IBM has been the conduit to AI for a cadre of top business schools, including NUS in Singapore, whose MBAs developed prototype applications and a business plan for ways to leverage Watson.
“NUS aims to groom future-ready students who can harness this combination of science and technology,” says NUS president Tan Chorh Chuan. “…...It is crucial for our students to be able to work with the most cutting-edge systems and technologies.”
AI is billed as having the disruptive potential to significantly enhance computing processes, but also to spur mass unemployment as swathes of low-skilled workers are eventually replaced by robots.
“We are approaching a time when machines will be able to outperform humans at almost any task,” says Moshe Vardi, director of the Institute for Information Technology at Rice University in Texas.
ESCP Europe’s Amaury believes algorithms are better-equipped than we are to manage complexity.
This is the thinking behind a number of business applications for AI, from “robo” financial advisors to machines using analytics to leverage complex and time-sensitive data more quickly.
Andrei Kirilenko, director of the Centre for Global Finance and Technology at Imperial College, says financial markets and institutions have become automated.
“They are server farms,” he says. “They run on technology because it has become better and cheaper at doing things that humans used to do.”
He believes that machines are becoming decision-makers, with humans “more on the periphery”. He says: “The machines, the models, the algorithms will make decisions and humans will provide the service functions.”
Like Imperial College, other schools have explored AI applications for specific industries. The Haas School of Business at University of California, Berkeley, sought to harness AI to improve healthcare.
“I want students to realize that with these digital tools they are capable of addressing one of society’s grand challenges — global healthcare,” says Solomon Darwin, executive director of the Garwood Center for Corporate Innovation at Haas, which offered cognitive computing courses with IBM’s Watson.