Assistant Professor of Business Administration at Gies College of Business, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Welcome back to Peoria Magazine’s Econ Corner, a recurring feature in which we pose questions to experts about various economic issues and how they affect our lives and careers here in central Illinois.
Doing this month’s Q&A is Anton Ivanov, assistant professor of business administration at Gies College of Business, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. His research focuses on machine learning and artificial intelligence, and he teaches courses on business intelligence and social media strategy.
Peoria Magazine (PM): There has been a lot of debate — and angst — recently about Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies and whether those will be an engine of productivity and economic growth or an engine of unemployment and more inequality than ever. What’s your view?
Anton Ivanov (AI): The introduction of new technologies, including AI, is a complex and multifaceted process that is likely to vary across different occupations, industries and regions. Similar concerns were voiced at the time of the emerging Machine Learning (ML) boom. Yet, over the past few years we have seen an enormous growth across a wide spectrum of professional and academic domains attributed to the use of ML.
There is an opinion that AI can replace humans in certain tasks and that this can lead to unemployment and a widening gap between the skilled and unskilled workforce. To this end, I would like to use the following quote by Pablo Picasso that I use in my Business Intelligence class: “Computers are useless. They only give you the answers.” The core idea here implies that the ultimate decision is the one to be made by humans. In other words, AI could provide some useful information to help humans make a final decision, but not necessarily replace them.
For that reason, it’s important for us to embrace Artificial Intelligence in higher education — for instance, from the perspective of academic integrity. The solution to the problem actually seems to emerge from the potential problem itself. That is why we should not be “banning” students from using AI and trying to catch them cheating; instead, we should teach them how to use AI strategically as a complementary tool. The more they are able to work with AI, the better they will be prepared for career paths that incorporate AI on a daily basis.
Since the real impacts of AI represent a topic of burgeoning research, I think that practitioners and policymakers should keep an eye on the rapid emergence of AI in order to be able to timely develop policies and strategies that can maximize its potential benefits while minimizing its potential negative impacts on people.
PM: A recent headline in the New York Times read, “We’re Unprepared for the A.I. Gold Rush.” Do you agree that the U.S. and the world are not ready for what’s about to hit us with AI? If so, what should governments, others, be doing now to be in a position to respond adequately to the coming changes?
AI: The hype around AI has been out there for a quite some time now. However, it is the recent introduction of ChatGPT, in particular, that has demonstrated the “power of AI” to over 100 million people worldwide and which, to many, came as a big surprise.
Does it mean we were unprepared? No, not necessarily, although it surely has caught the attention of a significantly wider audience that is now addressing its implications from newer angles and depth.
Admittedly, AI as a new technology does present considerable challenges for many stakeholders, given that the public, practitioners and policymakers may not fully understand its implications. To this end, based on my experience, there are efforts underway to address these challenges and ensure that AI is developed and deployed in a responsible and ethical manner.
For example, I have come across discussions held in the industry about ways to create ethical guidelines and standards for AI with many companies investing in education and training programs to prepare their employees for the jobs that use AI. In addition, I think that governments and businesses should triangulate their efforts with academic institutions, which stand at the forefront of studying this topic. Last but not least, I believe that the involved parties should recollect the Hippocratic maxim, “Do no harm,” which in this context would imply maximizing the benefits for people and minimizing their risks.
PM: Once upon a time, the conventional wisdom was that with each new economic evolution/revolution came job loss, yes, but also job opportunity, ultimately producing a net gain. Do you believe that’s still true, that these new technologies will produce more winners than losers in terms of Americans’ ability to support themselves and improve their lives?
AI: Let’s ask ourselves a question: “Why is there generally some loss following such events?” Perhaps the answer implies the time required for people to adapt to a given change in life. For example, status quo is a cognitive bias that associates people’s proclivity toward choosing the default option when presented with a menu of possible options. In general, individuals would rather avoid change and stick to what is available to them today.
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE is more likely to produce more winners than losers
Yet, human beings are very adaptable to different situations, environments and circumstances. As such, I do believe that the wisdom is likely to still hold true with respect to AI coming into our daily lives, although one should definitely take into account the time required for us to adapt to such an influential change.
Based on my experience with students, I have seen many of them benefiting tremendously from choosing career paths associated with Machine Learning and Business Analytics, both of which had been considered “novel and challenging” a few years ago. Similarly, I believe that eventually, AI is more likely to produce more winners than losers and would facilitate Americans supporting their lives through the new opportunities it presents.