AI at Wharton brings together an impressively diverse offering of teaching and research resources on artificial intelligence.

The Wharton School has long been considered a pioneer on the subject of artificial intelligence (AI), and the latest efforts show how the institution is leading the way by exploring how the utilization of AI tools can solve business problems.

“Wharton students, faculty, and business leaders will advance the analysis of AI technologies by exploring the connections of human behavior and AI systems and their impact on society, to emerge as tomorrow’s AI experts,” says Wharton School Dean Erika James.

By applying new principles in AI, Wharton faculty are affecting business practice and scholarly research. Ethan Mollick, academic director of Wharton Interactive and associate professor of management, teaches classes on machine learning for business decisions and A/B testing simulation. His forward thinking on the latest developments in ChatGPT and other generative AI tools aim to transform educators and the workforce.

“Generative AI fundamentally is going to be a shift in how we work and how we interact at a level that’s as big as anything we’ve seen in our lifetimes,” says Mollick.

In line with Wharton’s outsized research reputation, the new AI at Wharton (AIW) initiative is also significantly broadening the scope of the School’s AI ambitions, enabling Wharton to be further recognized by scholars, students, and practitioners as a global focal point for not only the study of how AI is leveraged in business applications, but also how AI advancements are transforming society as a whole.

At the initiative’s helm are Mary Purk, Executive Director, and four esteemed faculty co-directors recognized  as AI experts in their respective fields: Kartik Hosanagar, John C. Hower Professor of Operations, Information and Decisions; Robert Meyer, Frederick H. Ecker/MetLife Insurance Professor of Marketing; Stefano Puntoni, Sebastian S. Kresge Professor of Marketing; and Prasanna (Sonny) Tambe, Associate Professor of Operations, Information and Decisions.

“With new technology and new ways of educating, we at Wharton are able to reach a broader population and deliver cutting edge, evidence based knowledge,” says Nancy Rothbard, Wharton Deputy Dean and Professor of management. “We are innovating how we deliver pedagogy and the types of content we are using to educate.”

The Wharton School recognizes the vital role dedicated AI research centers will play in navigating future challenges. AI at Wharton fosters, coordinates, and promotes AI activities across the University of Pennsylvania.

“AIW will be a flagship center under the Analytics at Wharton (AAW) umbrella,” says Eric Bradlow, Vice Dean of AAW and K.P. Chao Professor of Marketing, Statistics, Education, and Economics. “With the growing importance of AI, and in particular generative AI, AIW’s impact will be significant throughout both our analytics research and curriculum, but also throughout the entire Wharton School.”

AI and Business

Artificial intelligence and analytics are at the center of firms’ decision-making today. AI at Wharton provides business leaders with the understanding of where and how to apply AI to transform and innovate business enterprises.

“Economists and other researchers have studied technologies that we refer to as general-purpose technology (GPT),” says Hosanagar. “I think AI will become a GPT, like electricity and computers. GPTs are different from other technologies in a few ways. On a macro level, they stimulate a lot of innovation and a huge amount of economic growth. At a micro level, meaning individual firms, they end up changing winners and losers of individual markets because of how companies adopt the technology. It changes competitive dynamics fundamentally.”

In September, AI at Wharton faculty teamed up with researchers, industry professionals, and academics for an engaging workshop exploring the transformative role of generative AI on business.

AI and Humans

Artificial intelligence brings new challenges, but also new opportunities. “We need to adopt a ‘human-and-machine’ mindset,” says Puntoni. “That is, not just understanding how algorithms can mimic human decision processes, but also how we can leverage the unique capabilities of algorithms and humans – which are different and complementary – for the benefit of business and society.”

By exploring the impact of artificial intelligence across industries and society, AIW looks to inspire innovative teaching and research, and encourages global leaders to intentionally consider and address data ethics in an age of digital transformation.

AI in Classrooms

As we witness AI actively redefining every industry, AIW will support students through research, curriculum, and experiential learning. By investigating AI applications, AI at Wharton will also offer programs for current industry professionals.

The Artificial Intelligence for Business program from Wharton Online is designed to provide learners with insights into the established and emerging developments in AI for business. This includes Big Data, Machine Learning in finance, and the operational changes AI will bring. The lessons within this course are applicable to multiple industries and dynamic markets.

In addition, Wharton’s efforts will impact classrooms beyond our campus. Through the development of simulations, the School is employing AI tools to revolutionize how teachers teach and students learn around the globe.

“Within Wharton Interactive, we have a team of people; writers, coders, and interactive fiction experts,” says Mollick. “AI is powering every simulation — we have AIs watching AIs. AIs are instructors, AIs are mentors, all interacting with each other and doing the teaching.”

AI in Research

Research in AI is increasingly becoming the backbone of decision making across functional areas and industries the world over. AIW scholars are actively exploring meaningful questions to bring clarity and insights that move business forward.

“AIW will combine the latest research and hands-on business applications of both AI and machine learning by providing research and practicum opportunities for  business leaders, faculty, and students to strengthen the impact of solutions within business and society,” says Purk. “Our faculty members’ expertise represents diverse topics of AI to support major advancements in the following fields: AI ethics and management, consumer adoption of AI, and entrepreneurship and business applications.”

AI in Innovation 

As Wharton’s hub for research and practical insight into technology-driven innovation and entrepreneurship, the Mack Institute for Innovation Management is also exploring how AI can transform businesses and industries. Their work includes the funding of student and faculty research, hosting experiential learning opportunities, and facilitating academic-industry partnership and knowledge-sharing programs.

“Spearheaded by Wharton faculty and PhD students, our funded research explores diverse aspects of the field of artificial intelligence, including projects on AI for innovation management, Generative AI’s capabilities in various domains, and others that probe AI’s impact on business models and organizational structures,” says Valery Yakubovich, the institute’s Executive Director.

The Collaborative Innovation Program, which places Wharton students in real companies to solve live innovation challenges, covers a range of AI-related topics from smart supply chain management to the role of AI in the mortgage industry. The institute’s work also pursues interdisciplinary initiatives within the University. The Program on Vehicle and Mobility Innovation focuses on AI for autonomous vehicles, and collaborates with the School of Engineering and Applied Science’s, PennMed, and PennDentistry on a Robotics for Healthcare initiative. The overarching goal for these projects is to cultivate an innovation ecosystem around transformative AI technologies.

Finally, the Mack Institute also seeks to communicate with corporate partners and the public at large. From public webinars to white papers and practitioner conferences, it seeks to transmit the research and expertise of Wharton professors to industry leaders, and to facilitate academic-industry conversations on emerging AI technologies.

AI in Policy

Artificial intelligence is one of the most pressing issues facing policymakers in Washington, DC. As members of Congress and leaders in the Biden Administration grapple with how to regulate AI, there is a significant need to better understand the scope of these technologies and their potential effects on society.

AI at Wharton and the Penn Office of Government and Community Affairs are organizing a series of briefings for congressional staff to position Wharton faculty as resources and thought leaders on issues of artificial intelligence, especially as artificial intelligence intersects with business and the economy.

“The AI policy landscape is moving fast, and the hope is to leverage Wharton’s brand name as a respected institution across the aisle to inform these conversations,” says Purk. “Taking part in these briefings will be a helpful first step in identifying knowledge gaps on Capitol Hill and future opportunities to engage with policymakers on these important topics.”


– Dee Patel 

Posted: November 14, 2023

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