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Entrepreneurship and Innovation

Business Schools and the Complexities of an Artificial Intelligence-driven world

How should we prepare future managers for algorithms taking over jobs?

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Amaury de BUCHET
Affiliate Professor of Entrepreneurship & Innovation
Head of Master in European Business Company Consultancy Projects

AI is Everywhere
No longer just a darling of the science fiction film industry, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is everywhere, present in the forms of both large complex algorithms and smaller task-dedicated ones.

Having been part of our lives for far longer than many realise, algorithms are better-equipped than we are to manage complexity: Eliza, The first ‘conversation’ computer program, was developed at MIT in 1966, while the A* algorithm, which forms the basis of many of today’s satellite navigation systems, was developed at Stanford in 1968. In 2014, the company Criteo launched its latest ‘prediction and recommendation engine’ for improved decision-making in advertising, based on actual purchase behaviour, by processing huge amounts of ‘big data’.

Even the established AI built into modern cars is being taken further with the development of driverless cars. BMW and Volkswagen set up shop in Silicon Valley as long ago as 1998. A video of BMW testing driverless cars using virtual reality can be seen here.

Many basic tasks were automated in industry during the 20th century, but now the robots are being taken out of their ‘cages’ and living closely alongside us. They are not the omniscient beings serving all-purposes as predicted in movies, but rather specialised tools designed to serve one purpose effectively.

Business Schools and the Complexities of an Artificial Intelligence-driven world

AI Reduces Effort for Professionals
Many professionals find that jobs that had previously required specialist training can now be carried out with the help of algorithms:

  • Journalists: reporting of sports and stock markets has been revolutionised by solutions from organisations like Narrative Science and Automated Insights.
  • Web developers have had their lives simplified by software that can generate unique websites offered by the likes of Simplébo, launched by an ESCP Europe alumnus.
  • Merchandisers have a range of tools for data mining, copywriting and customer interaction using software from organisations like LabSense, a French startup.
  • Personal assistants can automate requests and scheduling of meetings using systems such as ‘x.ai’or ‘Julie Desk’.
  • Radiologists can use websites like the Butterfly Network and Enlitic to assist in analysing medical images.
  • Financial advisors can choose to automate investments via software such as Wealthfront, which already manages over $2 billion in individual client assets.

And the list goes on, building on the algorithms for photo-recognition, natural language processing, neural networks, analysis of big data sets, with so-called deep learning or machine learning approaches. The interactions between man and machine are so smooth and streamlined that we often do not notice that we are dealing with AI-driven systems.

An Increasingly Complex World for Graduates
What does all this mean for us as professors in higher education as we help our students prepare to enter the job market?

It is clear that the working environment into which our students will graduate is uncertain and rapidly evolving.

Rather than try to predict exactly what the jobs of the future will involve, our role is to help our students to develop the skills and attitudes that will lead them to successful careers as the world around them becomes more complex.

As professors, to help our students meet the challenges posed by increased complexity, something which can block decision-making, we need to teach them understanding of how to transform blurred uncertainty into quantifiable risk by removing ambiguity, as far as possible, and leaving a level of variability.

Managers Need the Skills to Thrive in an Increasingly Complex Future
We need to help our students hone their skills in three particular areas to become successful managers in the future:

  1. Problem Solving: Managers need, more than ever, to become better at defining the real problems they need to solve. Removing ambiguity from the questions posed is the first step. They can then identify all the variables involved and use techniques (and algorithms) to quantify their effects, in absolute, relative or probabilistic terms. Choosing the best strategy then becomes a game of combinations that can be automated (generated upfront or by the algorithm).
  2. Storytelling: The ability to draft and articulate a comprehensive and attractive vision is key to getting attention and engagement from stakeholders. The use of storytelling techniques can prompt them to act and implement strategies more effectively.
  3. SEO: Search Engine Optimisation best describes the challenge of getting the message across filters set up by platforms in the ‘attention economy’. Having a good understanding of the underlying functions of the algorithms behind SEO is important knowledge that will help managers market their products and services and get their messages across effectively.

Attitudes Matter Too
As educators of future managers, we must also work with our students on their attitudes:
• The willingness to network and work in teams
• To promote an entrepreneurial spirit
• To be curious and creative
• To know when to break some rules

These soft skills are key to taming the complexity that could otherwise block progress.

Future Management of AI
There is no doubt that AI will continue to make inroads into every facet of our working lives. With AI algorithms taking over more and more sophisticated work activities, beyond the removal of some of the drudgery aspects, some managers will find more time freed up for greater added-value activities, while others will find their job structures and those of their teams change beyond recognition. Naturally, there will be redundancies; but, on the other hand, whole new types of jobs will emerge (e.g. in banking) as previously unfeasible tasks become possible.

Our role in business education is to help our students, from Bachelor in Management to Executive MBA, to manage the complexity that comes from a more AI-driven world and to steer their careers forwards within it.

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