AI is Here. What’s Going to Change?

Wharton School professors examine how artificial intelligence will affect business and society as adoption continues to grow.

AI Impact and Opportunity. How is AI influencing the workplace?

Artificial intelligence is like a bullet train, says professor Kartik Hosanagar at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Anyone who stays on the tracks because they think the train will see them and slow down is going to be overrun by it. “The only thing you can do — and you have to do — is get to the station, board the train and be part of the process of shaping where it goes,” he says.

Hosanagar — who is part of Wharton’s Department of Operations, Information and Decisions — captures the paralysis that many people feel about generative AI and what it means for their jobs. The release of ChatGPT a year ago catapulted AI into the spotlight and sparked fears that the robot revolution is finally here, threatening to replace humans in nearly every conceivable task, from writing copy to performing surgery.

How AI is changing human behavior

Marketing professor Stefano Puntoni, co-director of AI at Wharton, studies how technology is changing human behavior, including consumption and labor patterns. He says integrating a behavioral science perspective into analytics can help companies get the most value out of both their people and technology.

“If you talk to companies and ask them ‘Why did your analytics program fail?’ you almost never hear the answer, ‘Because the models don’t work. Because the techniques didn’t deliver,’ ” Puntoni says. “It’s never about the technical stuff. It’s always about people. It’s about lack of vision. It’s about the lack of alignment between decision-makers and analysts. It’s about the lack of clarity about why we do analytics.”

The big opportunity with AI is that we are going to see a productivity boost like we’ve never seen before in the history of humanity.

Thinking positively about AI and productivity

The professors encourage people to start thinking about AI as a help rather than a hindrance. Yes, some human functions will be automated in the future, and most workers will find that they need to learn new skills to some degree. But the productivity benefits of AI far outweigh the risks, they say.

Eric Bradlow, marketing professor and vice dean of analytics at Wharton, says he uses ChatGPT to convert structured R code into Python, which has made him a better and faster coder. Hosanagar uses it at Jumpcut, his startup, to bring more diverse and inclusive storytelling to Hollywood. Large language models help write snappy script summaries, an important first step as industry executives struggle to keep up with the massive volume of scripts coming in. The technology saves time and ensures that summaries are written in the parlance of the business, which can help attract the right people to read the content.

Hosanagar also says large language models like ChatGPT can help firms parse thousands of social media comments. Rather than having an employee take hours or days to read the comments and figure out the main positive and negative feedback, a large language model can do the work in seconds.

“The big opportunity with AI is that we are going to see a productivity boost like we’ve never seen before in the history of humanity,” he says. “That kind of productivity boost allows us to outsource the grunt work to AI and do the most creative things and derive joy from our work.”

Adopting AI will require deliberate experimentation

AI Impact and Opportunity. The point shouldn't be human replacement and obsolescence. It should be human flourishing.

Right now, companies need to figure out how AI will affect different functions, teams and workflows, and how to best use AI tools, Puntoni says. In order to do that, they need “deliberate experimentation.”
“The point shouldn’t be human replacement and obsolescence. It should be human flourishing,” he says. “How do we take this amazing technology to make our work more productive, more meaningful, more impactful and ultimately make society better?”

Puntoni and Hosanagar are researching different aspects of how humans interact with technology, including the level of trust or comfort they have with AI and the biases they bake into the algorithms. They urged people not to underestimate the power and speed of exponential change. For example, online shopping didn’t exist 30 years ago and now accounts for 23% of global retail.

“Every year, the technological improvement feels like an order of magnitude change,” Hosanagar says. “So, it’s coming. And it’s going to affect all kinds of jobs.”

Republished with permission from Knowledge@Wharton, the online research and business analysis journal of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania based in Philadelphia.

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