Asked by email to offer their thoughts on the new year and what it holds for business education, Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management professors Brian Uzzi and Tom Hubbard collaborated on a response to Poets&Quants that they titled “Scaling Human Minds: New Challenges for Leaders, Businesses, and Society.” In it, the two professors acknowledge the transformative effect of machine learning and artificial intelligence on business in partnership with humans, a partnership that has led to the solving of intractable problems while driving disruption in stable markets. That, they say, will accelerate. “Indeed, your next colleague at work may not be a person but an equation in the form of a machine-learning algorithm or artificial intelligence system,” Uzzi and Hubbard write. “Many of the most important network connections and teammates are not only going to be between people, but between people and machines. How are business schools preparing future leaders for a business world where mind+machine > mind or machine?
“The business challenge: Earlier technologies substituted machines for physical effort. Computational technologies call into question exactly which cognitive tasks humans should continue to perform, and which machines should conduct. Where do humans have a fundamental advantage?”
Their answer: Tech innovations free people to “deploy their energies into areas where they are uniquely capable” — areas such as intuition, creativity, invention, and relationships. “Partnerships with machines complement humans’ distinct capabilities, and vice versa,” Uzzi and Hubbard write. “The implications extend to any situation where more predictive evidence-based human decision-making provides more wellness or more wealth, or expanding human consciousness creates new success strategies and insights. ‘It’s not about growing the things you do so much as growing what other things you can do.’”
MIND+MACHINE > MIND OR MACHINE: THE COMING CHALLENGES
Computational innovations and man-machine partnerships offer very real benefits to humans, Uzzi and Hubbard write. For example, “H&R Block’s collaboration with IBM Watson can turn H&R Block’s traditional tax data entry personnel into higher end tax consultants,” they write. “Amazon had enormous consumer behavior data, but there was no existing theory to guide strategy for enticing buyers, bringing products to market, or targeting. Machines drew connections and offered recommendations by sifting through enormous amounts of data, reducing human blind spots and decision-making biases that may have otherwise taken years of research.”
In 2018, the Kellogg profs posit, many down-to-earth problems in business today are physical, real-world problems, not cyberspace conundrums. Therefore, some jobs performed by humans will eventually be performed by machines, including some white-collar jobs thought to be immune from automation. Along with the obvious benefits, this presents challenges: “What do these people do now, and what should we as society do for them?” Uzzi and Hubbard ask. “Relatedly, they can accelerate economic inequality if some humans’ efforts turns out much easier to scale than others. Do organizations’ incentives to scale human minds conflict with egalitarian desires to generate more equal outcomes? These changes and the challenges they present create an opportunity for academic research that is both cutting-edge and impactful.
“Top business schools will thus have a new charge: How do we prepare leaders for leading in a workplace where mind+machine > mind or machine? It is only through accepting that we are greater with machines than without them that will we discover what makes us uniquely human and humane.”
‘THE ROLE OF TECHNOLOGY IN IMPROVING THE HUMAN CONDITION’
Duke Fuqua School of Business Dean Bill Boulding agrees that the transformative effect of tech will continue in 2018s, and he echoes Uzzi and Hubbard in voicing concerns about the “partnership” between man and machine. “We need,” Boulding says, “to spend some time in the new year really thinking about the human and ethical implications of these technologies.”
One example is artificial intelligence. What, he asks, is the role of human judgment when emptying rules-based algorithms? And here Boulding turns to Duke’s biggest name to provide context.
“Our legendary men’s basketball coach at Duke, Mike Krzyzewski, talks about having standards rather than rules. Why? Standards allow for human judgment about what’s best in the moment,” Boulding says. “Rules box you into a decision without considering other information that may be important to the particular situation. We need to pause to think through the implications of technology to make sure we are not losing the human element and in particular our values.
Ethical and moral issues related to technology are going to be important in 2018, Boulding says. Take blockchain for example. The technology is revolutionizing the financial services industry, “but what is the right level of transparency versus privacy? … Understanding the human-AI interface will take on increasing prominence as we think through the role of technology in improving the human condition.”
SHOWING BUSINESS AS ‘A TRANSFORMATIONAL ENGINE FOR GOOD’
At the same time, Boulding says, technology in 2018 will continue to disrupt business and impact jobs. It will be essential, he says, for business leaders in the coming year to think about how to innovate for “the under-served and those being left behind in the wake of technological innovations. Can technology be harnessed in ways that improves the lives of individuals currently living in fear that new technologies equate to the loss of their jobs? Genuine efforts in this area could go a long way in winning back public trust in business post-financial crisis.”
Therein lies a challenge for business schools, Boulding says: “We must develop graduates who can win back public confidence and show business can be a transformational engine for good. That means making sure business education is accessible to a wide variety of students who can make an impact in different ways. For those reasons, I think it’s also important that business schools be focused in 2018 on how to deliver curriculum in effective ways (like online) that increase flexibility for students and thus accessibility and diversity. While online programs should not replace the face-to-face model in business education, there is a place for online in our industry and I think this will be an area of tremendous innovation in the coming year.”
Cornell SC Johnson College of Business’s Mukti Khaire, the Girish and Jaidev Reddy professor of practice, adds a note on collaboration in 2018: “I believe that cross-functional, collaborative, and comprehensive processes of product (i.e., end-to-end solutions to internal or marketplace challenges) development will be key to business success in 2018,” she says. “Business education that emphasizes these dimensions of leadership will therefore be increasingly critical to sustained wins in this rapidly-transforming economy.”