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‘Thriving In a Complex World’: Georgetown’s New Initiative & The Future Of Business Education

Georgetown McDonough Dean Paul Almeida. Georgetown photo

Business education must keep up with the rapidly evolving pace of the business landscape, and it must embrace the cutting edge of technology and the need — and desire — to use the privileged perch of business to effect positive social change, says Paul Almeida, dean of the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University. That’s why the McDonough School, with its Jesuit tradition of working for the common good, is the ideal place for equipping MBA and other master’s students with the skills necessary to contribute to creating a better world. One of the ways it’s doing just that is with the launch of the new AI, Analytics, and the Future of Work Initiative.

As a cross-school collaboration meant to address technological change and its economic and social effects in the workforce, the initiative seeks to bring together influential leaders and decision-makers from Washington, D.C. and beyond. Through events featuring notable guest speakers, electives, workshops, and opportunities like a research fellowship program and internship, this initiative helps to prepare students for the future of work.

Alberto Rossi, the initiative’s director, says that the desire to use technology to help vulnerable members of society is at the heart of the initiative.

“Georgetown is incredibly interested in developing ethical leaders who can think about what they can do to improve the world,” says Rossi, an associate professor of finance at the McDonough School. “We need leaders that do not only think about the bottom line, but do what companies are supposed to do: Benefit society. Students are going to be able to take advantage of the tools taught in this initiative to benefit everyone.”

EQUIPPING STUDENTS WITH THE SKILLS TO SUCCEED

Paul Almeida says students must be prepared to lead organizations in a way that’s aligned with where the world will be in the future, not as it currently is or was in previous decades.

“Technology, and more particularly AI, is rapidly changing our world in profound ways – often for the good,” he tells Poets&Quants in a recent interview. “Students must understand how AI will change work, what this means for organizations and individuals, and how business and policy can help AI serve the common good.”

“We want our students to graduate with the tools, techniques, and mindsets to thrive in a complex and changing world. By adding this content to our classrooms, connecting students with business executives already exploring these topics, and providing hands-on and experiential learning opportunities, our students will enter the workforce with the confidence and adaptability needed to excel in their careers.”

Rossi says analytics and technology are transforming not only the economy, but the workplace itself. He says that this initiative was created as an opportunity to bring together students and faculty to share their research and design a curriculum about new, cutting edge changes that are happening in society today and in the future.

CAN ALGORITHMS HELP THE LESS FORTUNATE?

Alberto Rossi

After earning his Ph.D. a decade ago, Rossi spent his time researching machine learning algorithms and how they can be useful to solve finance and asset management issues. He became more and more interested in how technology can help individuals make better financial decisions. He soon dove into the world of robo advisors and the impact of automation in financial decision-making. “Traditionally, people would work with a financial advisor,” he tells Poets&Quants. “However, one of the big limitations of human advisors is that they only cater to those with a certain level of wealth; it’s simply not cost effective for them to cater to those less privileged.”

Inspired by the potential of using robo advisors to reach more people and improve financial inclusion, he learned that many people have what he calls an ‘algorithmic aversion,’ meaning they don’t trust algorithms. He realized then that it’s essential to understand not only how to use the tools themselves, but how to impact the user’s psychology behind it. “You can have the best tool in the world, but if people don’t trust it, they will simply not use it,” says Rossi.

Because of Rossi’s experience studying the barriers of widespread robo-advisors algorithm adoption, he was asked by the McDonough School to lead the AI, Analytics, and the Future of Work Initiative. “I got more and more passionate about how automation can help individuals make better decisions when it comes to their consumption and saving choices. There are many tools that can be promising for helping the less fortunate,” says Rossi.

“Technology is a double-edged sword,” he continues. “You need ethical leaders in order to exploit technology for the good. There’s a lot of work that people are now trying to do to understand how much automated algorithms can help individuals reduce their cultural biases and discrimination in lending. Depending on how the algorithms are designed, it can increase inequality and cut off the lending to the most vulnerable people in society, or they can actually correct it.”

AI TO SERVE THE COMMON GOOD

The initiative focuses on educating students in three key areas: The study and development of AI algorithms to solve problems for the common good, new technology’s impact on the workforce, and how technology can be leveraged to reduce society’s wealth inequality.

To develop AI algorithms that have the potential to solve problems for the common good, the school coordinates faculty research across all disciplines – even beyond the business school – to study the impact of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and big data in business.

Almeida says that the initiative also helps teach students how AI will change work, what that means for organizations and individuals, and how business and policy can help AI serve society in a positive way.

“Understanding how AI and machine learning tools provide effective recommendations and advice and when they can perpetuate biases is crucial for the leaders of tomorrow,” says Almeida. “After graduating, our students will face the challenging question of how and when to deploy these novel AI tools within their companies. Having an understanding of their pros and cons will be essential in guiding their decision making.”

DISRUPTING THE WORKFORCE

To assess how technology disrupts the workforce, the initiative helps to analyze which new skills and roles are needed. By studying how these changes affect wages and employment opportunities, students learn which jobs will be substituted by technology. Since people in the workforce have varying levels of education and competencies, understanding which jobs will be replaced by technology will provide those with an opportunity to participate in continuing education to remain employable and gain relevant skills. “This can be instrumental in understanding and potentially reducing wealth inequality in society,” says Almeida.

To equip students with the skills to navigate these workforce changes, the school also launched an M.S. in business analytics in conjunction with the initiative. “This is a program that is effectively designed to help people be competitive in today’s world,” says Rossi. “Sometimes, software engineers lack business knowledge, and some people that are managers may lack the technical skills. The master’s of business analytics is designed to bring these two together and make our students competitive on the job market.”