The launch of ChatGPT and its successors has been hailed as a watershed moment in the development of artificial intelligence. These powerful tools can generate detailed descriptions and answer questions in a conversational format. And they have become wildly popular, generating commercial opportunities while reviving fears over workforce disruption and also promising to uplift productivity.
Given the hype, it is little wonder that demand for insights on AI is rising fast among executive education participants (custom and open) in response to the rise of generative tools such as ChatGPT, owned by OpenAI. In response, business schools are rushing to revamp their existing programs and create new ones that focus on the new wave of AI products and services, with uptake high.
“The pace of change in the world of machine learning and AI is head-spinning and many executives are at a loss to figure out how it will change their businesses. While they have understood that every function in the business has to adapt to the massive increase in data, they now realize that AI is forcing changes that are more fundamental,” says Gregory La Blanc, Lecturer in Finance, Strategy and Law at the Haas School of Business at University of California, Berkeley.
AI: now a fundamental part of executive education
He believes that AI must now become a fundamental part of executive education, if it wasn’t already. “It should be a part of every level of business education. AI allows for massive improvements in the quality of decision making, but also enables some colossal blunders. So it’s critical that executives understand the potential and limitations of various AI tools and to harness the comparative advantage of humans and AI,” La Blanc stresses.
Haas already runs a course, entitled “Artificial Intelligence: Business Strategies and Applications”. The course helps executives to compete in the digital economy, and understand how game-changing technologies such as AI can benefit the different business functions in their organization.
La Blanc warns that business schools should not be teaching technical skills; the complexity of the most advanced AI tools is too great for even the best executives to master. “What executives can bring to the table is the ability to orchestrate the integration of new tools and processes into existing businesses, as well as to design entirely new business models and strategies around these new tools,” adds La Blanc.
Demand is growing fast for executive courses in AI
Other business schools are grappling with these changes, and also noticing an uptick in requests for information from their executive participants. “Demand as well as general interest among executives for AI in general has been growing fast over the past years,” says Theodoros Evgeniou, Professor of Decision Sciences and Technology Management at INSEAD in France and Singapore.
“The curiosity, interest and excitement of the executives about generative AI in the courses has been extremely high -- to a point where we literally end up always spending a lot more time on this than planned,” he adds. Evgeniou is the Director of the “Transforming Your Business with AI” program at INSEAD. The course gives participants a deep understanding of how AI is deployed in business, so that executives can see what it can (and cannot) do for them and their business.
Evgeniou says that AI adoption requires significant organizational changes, from new capabilities and roles to new partnerships, processes, and practices as well as funding strategies. It is also creating significant risks to business and society. “So executives but also boards need to be exposed to it and the implications it has for all stakeholders,” the Professor adds.
When it comes to teaching approaches in the classroom, Evgeniou stresses that business schools should be using many examples, and focusing on how to identify and measure business value and risks.
But he adds that “we have not even started scratching the surface” in terms of how schools prepare managers to use AI in business. Matthias Holweg, a Professor of Operations Management at Said Business School, University of Oxford, agrees that this is an ongoing debate. “In my mind, senior decision-makers do not learn how to code or understand machine learning algorithms. But they do need to be able to judge good from bad, and be able to assess the opportunities and risks that AI poses,” he says.
Holweg is Director of the Oxford Artificial Intelligence Programme at Oxford in the UK, and he notices a rise in demand for programs that teach executives how to make it work for their specific context. “This is a sign of growing maturity and ubiquitous application of AI,” he says.
While the subject matter is still evolving, it seems clear that demand for such content will continue to rise.