Gabelli School Center for Digital Transformation Hosts Panel Discussion on Generative AI and the Future of Work
| Oct 19, 2023 | Gabelli School of Business
Event convened experts at the crossroads of technological innovation and social transformation who discussed the positive and negative impacts of AI for the human workforce and beyond
Generative AI is taking the world by storm, yet there is little public consensus about what the implications may be for the workforce and society at large. As experts and stakeholders across industries debate, business is already being transformed by generative AI systems that can carry out some job functions. Less obvious to most people, however, are the changes taking place to the infrastructure that underpins the organization and processes of the business world, raising fundamental questions about what actions should be taken by both business leaders and academics to prepare us for what comes next. What will knowledge work look like in the age of generative AI? How will knowledge workers use these tools to assist them?
On September 29, 2023, the Gabelli School Center for Digital Transformation hosted a panel discussion, organized by Professor Aditya Saharia, Ph.D., the Center’s Director, that convened experts from across industry and academia who provided their perspectives on the future of work in the age of generative AI, and the changes we may need to anticipate as AI technology continues to evolve. They included: Jorge Martinez Navarrete, lead, Innovation Unit Office of Information and Communications Technology, United Nations, who moderated the discussion, and Fredric Cibelli, principal, technology consulting, Ernst & Young; Vasant Dhar, Ph.D., professor of technology, operations and statistics, Leonard N. Stern School of Business, New York University; and Rajesh Rajappan, senior vice president, digital solutions BU, Hitachi Vantara, who each brought their unique perspective to the complex yet aminated debate.
In order to adapt to generative AI, the panelists emphasized that understanding how—and why—we should work with technology will be essential for the knowledge workforce of the future. They contemplated problematic scenarios, such as the Writer’s Guild of America strike, and the industry’s fear of being upended by technologies that could replace writers. Yet the participants’ concerns were balanced by optimism regarding the opportunities that automation and efficiency may offer to business as a driving force for innovation.
The conversation pivoted between topics such as the development of AI technology itself, to the philosophical questions posed by the role of sophisticated machines working in tandem with human beings, and the panelist raised tough, sometimes unanswerable questions. All agreed when Professor Dhar stated: “We know we have to do something, we don’t yet know what that is.”
In response, Cibelli, noted, “The first question we need to ask is, how do we use this tool to solve real world problems,” while Navarrete pondered where and how are the dollars for generative AI going to be invested. Rajappan focused even more granularly, pointing out that in marketing and customer service, where substantial investments are being made, the question remains as to how this new technology can be applied to drive productivity and improve the bottom line.
While it is acknowledged that some professions in the business world are already being disrupted by AI, such as auditing and accounting, the group agreed that those who use generative AI to improve business processes and to design solutions will be in high demand. The key to success will be to understand how to wield technology and how to work with technology systems while applying design thinking. For now, Rajappan asserted, AI is a co-pilot even though the rules are changing, and may be different in the future.
As for that future, Navarrete suggested the focus should be on developments over the next five years, even as the bigger issues remain unanswered. Professor Dhar advised, “Study computing because it will be running things. Study philosophy so you can ask the right questions.” He asserted that we need to know how the technology works, and what models can be used to solve business problems. Rajappan also emphasized the importance of creativity, a unique human characteristic. “Humans can apply creativity on top of the models. It’s not just about learning the technology,” he concluded.
Written by: Michelle Miller, Associate Director of Communications, Fordham University Gabelli School of Business