Why Wharton Is Going All-In On AI

Even as doubts grow about the realities of generative AI versus the marketing of the tech by Silicon Valley, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania announced last month that it is going all-in on AI — doubling down on what Dean Erika James calls an indispensable new technology that will revolutionize the world.

“Artificial intelligence is poised to fundamentally transform every sector of business and society, and the world needs reliable, evidence-based insights about its practical and responsible use today,” says James in announcing the new Wharton AI & Analytics Initiative, a major investment to dramatically increase the school’s research and teaching capabilities in the areas of artificial intelligence and data science.

“Business schools have a crucial role to play in understanding and advancing an AI-enabled world,” James continues, “and no school is better positioned to examine the multifaceted dimensions of this evolving phenomenon than Wharton. That’s why we are investing heavily in areas that allow our faculty to navigate the avalanche of interrelated issues AI has broached.”

EVEN AS DOUBTS ABOUT AI GROW, WHARTON PLUNGES AHEAD

Wharton’s Eric Bradlow: School is “committed to creating and broadly sharing the novel scholarship the world needs to realize the tremendous promise of AI”

Wharton has always been a research powerhouse. The Wharton AI & Analytics Initiative, to be led by Eric Bradlow, vice dean for AI & Analytics and the K.P. Chao Professor, professor of marketing, statistics and data science, economics, and education, joins more than 20 other research centers and initiatives at the Philadelphia B-school.

“We aim to be the preeminent business school for student learning experiences, faculty exploration opportunities, and industry and academic thought partnership on AI and its impact on society,” says Bradlow, who co-founded at Wharton the first-ever center on the application of data science to business. “This is a critical moment, and we are committed to creating and broadly sharing the novel scholarship the world needs to realize the tremendous promise of AI.”

Doubts about that promise are growing, and some say the “critical moment” is proving to be a “significant disappointment” as the public learns the limitations of what AI can actually do — and investors learn the limits of the returns it will generate. AI may be suffering from public fatigue amid a series of belly flops of promised revolutionary tech, from driverless cars to NFTs and cryptocurrency, and doubts are growing about the lofty promises of what AI can actually deliver.

That’s not deterring Wharton and other B-schools from plunging ahead because, as deputy dean Nancy Rothbard writes, “Developing a fluency in AI and its impact on business decision-making is no longer an option, it’s a requirement to be competitive in any organization. We are once again answering society’s call to address the needs of tomorrow and we’re excited to provide our students and the business world with the tools and applicable knowledge they need to excel as we collectively confront the most transformative technology of our time.”

NEW INITIATIVE BROADENS ‘BREADTH & IMPACT’ OF WHARTON’S AI ASPIRATIONS

In support of the new initiative, Wharton has established two new funds in research and teaching. The Wharton AI Research Fund will provide faculty with resources “to pursue projects exploring the intersection of AI advancement and modern business models, industries, and global economies,” and the Education Innovation Fund will support curricular innovation by providing resources for faculty to “augment, adapt, and reimagine how they incorporate AI into classroom instruction and course materials.” The school will also begin providing ChatGPT Enterprise licenses to all full-time and executive MBA students this fall “to further enable their exploration of generative AI” — marking the first such collaboration between a business school and OpenAI, the company that makes ChatGPT.

Building on research from already-established centers like AI at Wharton and the Mack Institute for Innovation Management, the new initiative will seek to “further galvanize scholars across Wharton’s 10 academic departments to explore AI’s impact on subjects like marketing, finance, investing, entrepreneurship, health care, and workforce productivity, while also considering AI’s ethical and accountability impact. The work will focus heavily on fostering collaboration between industry and academia to integrate a range of viewpoints and ensure the creation of value-added business learning and solutions.”

“Our faculty are already exploring AI’s impact on subjects like marketing, finance, investing, entrepreneurship, health care, workforce productivity, and creativity while also considering its ethical and accountability impacts,” Dean Erika James writes at LinkedIn. 
“We are equally focused on fostering collaboration between industry and academia to integrate a range of viewpoints and ensure the creation of value-added business learning and solutions.

“The new Wharton AI & Analytics Initiative will significantly broaden the breadth and impact of our AI aspirations. We’re making bold investments in innovative research and learning opportunities to effectively navigate the avalanche of interrelated issues AI has broached.”

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