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Faculty Insights

WSB Invests in AI Through Research and Learning

By Wisconsin School of Business

September 18, 2023

AI graphic of human profile with AI patterned head and UW crest

Artificial intelligence (AI) is changing so fast—and impacting society, industry, and education along with it—that keeping abreast of the tidal wave is both an exciting and daunting challenge.

Enno Siemsen, associate dean of MBA and master’s programs and a professor of operations and information management at the Wisconsin School of Business, says addressing AI from both a teaching and research perspective is in keeping with the forward-thinking mindset the school has always maintained.

“We’re always trying to stay on top of emerging topics whether it’s sustainability, DEI, or business—and AI is a continuation of that.”

Enno Siemsen

“Our approach to AI is a response to what we’re seeing in the marketplace,” Siemsen says. “We’re always trying to stay on top of emerging topics whether it’s sustainability, DEI, or business—and AI is a continuation of that.”

The emergence of ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence chatbot, this past November kicked things up a notch.

“I think that accelerated in the public mind the impact that artificial intelligence is having on business, and it really created a flurry of innovations which are going on right now across industries,” says Siemsen. “We want to make sure we prepare our students for that reality as best we can.”

Teaching students about AI

An upcoming WSB event will offer students the opportunity to learn more about the different aspects of AI and how to navigate and use them in the context of business fields.

The applied learning session will introduce generative AI—an area of AI that can create images and other media—and large-language model applications like ChatGPT.

“I believe a basic understanding is helpful for students to better understand the situations in which these tools are particularly powerful and how they can be applied in a business context,” says Dani Bauer, the Hickman-Larson Chair in Actuarial Science and a professor of risk and insurance with WSB. “This background also provides a glimpse into the limitations and potential challenges associated with their increased prevalence.”

The three-part event will include:

  • A foundational introduction to the workings of AI models.
  • A segment on applications of generative AI in different business functions and fields.
  • Broader discussion around the changes and challenges associated with the increased prevalence of AI tools.

The event takes place September 22 and will be co-led by University of Wisconsin–Madison faculty and industry partners such as Google, Mailchimp, and Velocity AI.

The upcoming event is “one mechanism for how we integrate fast-evolving content into our curriculum,” says Siemsen, adding that another event will likely take place in the spring.

In addition to hands-on learning opportunities like the generative AI event, WSB is embedding AI learning into its course offerings. The school already has AI-relevant courses across multiple programs and departments, and is currently developing a new course called Competing with AI for the redesigned executive MBA program. Siemsen expects that the school will continue to develop new AI curriculum to prepare WSB students as AI changes.

“Our strategy with AI is to remain flexible right now because it is a very quickly evolving topic,” says Siemsen.

Supporting AI research

Just as WSB students are learning about AI through curriculum, so are WSB faculty exploring AI through their research. The school is committed to supporting research in emerging, in-demand fields, and AI is an important component of that investment.

Many WSB faculty members conducting AI research are now part of an informal group of researchers specifically interested in the hybrid aspect of human and AI interactions. The group was founded by Jordan Tong, the Wisconsin Naming Partners Professor and a professor of operations and information management.

“Over the last couple of years, I somewhat organically noticed there were a lot of WSB faculty working on human-AI interactions, including many new faculty members,” Tong says. “I decided to collect a list of people and research articles that people have either completed or are currently working on. Others started saying they’re interested in the topic even if they don’t have a completed paper yet, too. Then people showed some interest in learning about others’ work across areas on this topic.”

The group held a gathering this spring in Grainger Hall, giving WSB faculty members an opportunity to share their research, collaborate, and to deepen their understanding of AI and its impact on industry and education.

Recent examples of AI research from WSB faculty members include:

  • Qinglai He on machine-human collaboration in content moderation
    He, assistant professor of operations and information management, looked at machine-human collaboration in content moderation for large platforms that implemented bot moderators as well as human volunteer moderators. Using Reddit community forum data, she found that introducing bot moderators freed up human volunteers to do more advanced managerial duties as opposed to routine tasks.

“How can we create a healthy online environment and how can we stimulate more effective user interaction on these platforms? Machine learning and the issues surrounding it are still pretty new,” He says. “Few studies have looked at the role of algorithms in community governance, so this idea got me very excited.”

  • Ishita Chakraborty on using AI during the hiring process
    Chakraborty, Thomas and Charlene Landsberg Smith Faculty Fellow and an assistant professor of marketing, examined AI and sales managers during the hiring process. Her findings suggest that AI works well to weed out bottom-tier job candidates so that managers can focus on interviewing their top picks, saving both valuable time and money.

“This space is very exciting overall, because I feel that the future of hiring, or AI-based hiring, is actually hybrid,” Chakraborty says.