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‘Prediction Machines’: what AI could mean for your job, your business

May 24, 2018

When it comes to artificial intelligence (AI), most of us feel a mix of excitement and dread. On the one hand, AI could make our lives significantly easier by automating everyday tasks. At the same time, we can’t help but wonder how this technology might make our jobs — and us — redundant.

As Rotman professors Ajay Agrawal, Joshua Gans and Avi Goldfarb explain in their new book, Prediction Machines: The Simple Economics of Artificial Intelligence (Harvard Business School Press, April 2018), the key to making sense of AI and the future is to think like an economist.

It’s the great advances in prediction technology that make AI so exciting, the authors explain. From rapid language translation programs to smart speakers like Alexa and Google Home, prediction is the basis for most of the smart technologies we use today.

As prediction continues to get better and cheaper, certain skills and qualities will become more — or less — valuable.

Specifically, our workforce will be hungry for the things that machines cannot master, including human judgment and action. We’ll need managers who are capable of assessing situations, mentoring and taking the steps to execute plans. And data, the input for prediction machines, will become even more valuable.

“If you can understand the advances in prediction technology, then you can understand AI’s impact on companies and society.”

—Avi Goldfarb, Professor of Marketing

In Prediction Machines, the authors present frameworks, approaches and anecdotes that set the stage for how to think through new workflows, make decisions and develop strategies.

The books premise is clear, says Goldfarb. “If you can understand the advances in prediction technology, then you can understand AI’s impact on companies and society.”

In many ways, Agrawal, Gans and Goldfarb are uniquely qualified to take on a subject as hefty as AI. These Rotman professors built their academic careers exploring the impact of the last major technological innovation, the internet, on business and the economy.

As early as 2012, when machine learning tools became more prominent, the three professors, who all serve executive functions with the Creative Destruction Lab, began to work more and more with AI companies. At the same time, they were also observing some of the great strides their colleagues from the Department of Computer Science were making in this space.

“We got in in on the ground floor,” says Goldfarb. “We knew that AI would be the next big technology and it was worth dissecting and exploring further.”

This book aligns perfectly with a course that the professors teach for Rotman Executive programs. Executives from various organizations and sectors learn the basic principles of AI technology and discuss how to apply new frameworks to their current business practices.

“We move pretty quickly in the course and focus on application,” says Goldfarb. ”Program participants leave thinking about the immediate changes that they can make at work to stay relevant.”

For Goldfarb, he’s thinking about his own plan and there’s a lot to be excited about. It’s quite possible that AI will make his role as a parent easier in some ways — it’s becoming far easier to ask Alexa or Google Home about homework questions and self-driving cars could mean that he won’t need to teach his kids to drive.

“Beyond that, I’m looking forward to the applications and the possibilities we can’t even imagine yet.”

The authors spoke about the book at the launch event, April 16, 2018

Written by Rebecca Cheung | More Rotman Insights »

About the Book

Prediction Machines

The Simple Economics of Artificial Intelligence

Ajay Agrawal, Joshua Gans, and Avi Goldfarb
HBR Press

Get your copy today!

Related Videos

Ajay Agrawal speaks at the Machine Learning and the Market for Intelligence Conference, October 2017

Avi Goldfarb on Understanding the Economics of AI, #HBRLive

Joshua Gans discusses how to apply AI to your business at this HBR Webinar.

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