MIT Sloan School Is Ahead of the Curve in AI Education for MBAs

MIT Sloan School Is Ahead of the Curve in AI Education for MBAs  main image

The robots are coming in the form of artificial intelligence (AI). But take comfort. you’ll still have a job, it just might be different than it is now.

Sloan Dean David C. Schmittlein says, “Society will continue to need humans”.

For example, deliveries will be possible with autonomous vehicles, but you’ll still need people to walk up to the door and ring the bell, he adds. People know what to do if no one is home or there are two apartments in one house. Certainly, some simple tasks might be taken over by AI, Schmittlein admits, and economic models will have to change.

However, the experts at Sloan still believe in the power of people to move forward businesses. The world is overdue for understanding that AI will replace processes and not necessarily jobs, says Schmittlein.

“We’re experts in how to incent companies to use human capital in new ways,” he adds.

Understanding artificial intelligence

AI is a reference to intelligence on the part of machines. Machine learning is an application of AI that allows machines to improve with experience without being programmed to do so. Trying to find ways to keep humans relevant is just one way that innovation is changing the face of management and how business schools teach it. While many business schools are playing catch up when it comes to AI, MIT Sloan has a distinct advantage.

“It’s true that we were doing what is now AI before it was called AI,” says Schmittlein.

In fact, machine learning algorithms, he adds, were born at MIT. As a result, the school isn’t scrambling to put together curriculum or better understand how to apply AI and machine learning to business. The Sloan school offers at least two relevant courses for MBA students and provides other opportunities for delving into this revolution in technology:

  • Global Business of AI and Robotics

In this course, students learn about the commercialization of AI in both large companies and startups. Debuting in 2017, it helps students determine where both the opportunities and challenges lie in putting such products and services to market. It’s reached full capacity for the fall.

  • Machine Learning via a Modern Optimization Lens

This course is a new iteration of traditional lessons. But it seeks to understand the challenges of machine learning in a new light now that so many advancements have been made. This is an in-depth, rigorous, quantitative course.

In addition, students can choose to take up to three other courses that are not taught within Sloan but rather in the greater university. Examples include AI in cryptocurrency or AI in computational science.

Whereas a student taking a traditional MBA role after graduation might not need that kind of in-depth knowledge of AI, while another hoping to launch an AI-relevant venture will benefit from a deep dive. The tools for understanding AI are available on campus, and you can choose your own adventure so to speak.

Leading the crowd

MIT’s culture promotes the entrepreneurial spirit and innovation (you can learn more about it in “Why Business Schools Are Investing in Students’ Start-Ups.”). Certainly, Sloan connects MBA students and graduates with others across the university, and sometimes those collaborators pursue AI or machine learning related ventures.

However, all businesses can benefit from AI’s greatest strength thus far. It can capture value and insights from big data by identifying patterns. Then, it turns those insights into digestible information that can be used to make decisions and take action to solve business problems, explains Schmittlein.

“What we know is we’ve hardly seen anything yet,” says Schmittlein. “The growth of AI won’t only continue but accelerate.”

There’s no question it will become more widespread and take over more elementary processes in manufacturing, product design, etc. Leaders will also pair AI and robotics with other sciences, such as nanotechnology or the life sciences.

Whatever the future brings, some things will remain the same, but business schools, particularly Sloan, have been confronting such disruption for years. Schmittlein says, “These changes are not new to the school”.

As a result, he adds, the faculty and administration is able to quickly adapt. Despite the uncertainty new technologies and advancements bring, educators still need to teach the same basic skills, such as how to build a team, says Schmittlein. They must also provide frameworks for coping with ethical challenges.

What about people’s privacy when you’re collecting big data? What should companies do with the information they have on customers, suppliers, potential customers? These are just a couple of the questions Schmittlein contemplates—and MIT students must consider.

In the end, teaching the core of what it takes to run a business remains the same. Contemplating ethics still requires the same discipline. Even as AI and other technologies, such as new applications for blockchain, revolutionize industries (and truly the world), Sloan’s mission goes unchanged.

Schmittlein says, “We commit ourselves to developing innovative leaders with a sense of values, who are intent on changing the world and themselves to create the future.” 

Francesca Di Meglio

Francesca Di Meglio has written about higher education for two decades. She covered business schools and all aspects of management education for what became Bloomberg Businessweek from May 2004 to December 2013. Di Meglio was the consultant editor for the book Admitted: An Interactive Workbook for Getting into a Top MBA Program (85 Broads Publishing, 2011), which was written by admissions consultant Betsy Massar. In addition, she is a family travel and parenting blogger at the Italian Mamma website

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