Artificial intelligence is like a bullet train, said Wharton professor Kartik Hosanagar.
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 said.
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.
But a new special series from Wharton titled “AI in Focus” aims to put this rapidly changing technology into context and help audiences understand not only the legitimate concerns that come with AI, but also its enormous potential. The series, hosted by Eric Bradlow, marketing professor and vice dean of Analytics at Wharton, also highlights some of the school’s leading research on AI as it relates to business. Topics include the impact of AI on sports, management, neuroscience, health care, education, automakers, innovation, productivity and, more broadly, industries and organizations.
How AI Is Changing Human Behavior
Marketing professor Stefano Puntoni joined Bradlow and Hosanagar for the first episode of the series, which was a general discussion on “What Is the Future of AI?” (Watch the episode here.) Puntoni is co-director of AI at Wharton, and he studies how technology is changing human behavior, including consumption and labor patterns.
He said integrating a behavioral science perspective into analytics can help companies get the most value out of both their human capital 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 said. “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 productivity boost like we’ve never seen before in the history of humanity.”— Kartik Hosanagar
Thinking Positively About AI and Productivity
The professors did not cast aside fears of job replacement, but they encouraged 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 reskill to some degree. But the productivity benefits of AI far outweigh the risks, they said.
Bradlow said 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 (LLMs) help write snappy script summaries, an important first step as industry execs 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 explained how LLMs 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, an LLM 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 said. “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.”
“The point shouldn’t be human replacement and obsolescence. It should be human flourishing.”— Stefano Puntoni
Adopting AI Will Require Deliberate Experimentation
Puntoni said right now companies need to figure out how AI will affect different functions, teams, and workflows, and how to best use AI tools. In order to do that, they need to conduct “deliberate experimentation.”
“The point shouldn’t be human replacement and obsolescence. It should be human flourishing,” he said. “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 said. “So, it’s coming. And it’s going to affect all kinds of jobs.”