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DSI Assembles Business Leaders to Assess AI

3 Business Leaders for Artificial Intelligence sitting at a table for panel discussion

May 13, 2019

By David Allen

Artificial intelligence is often discussed as an approaching “future,” with speculation about its potential to disrupt or displace human workers. However, according to several experts who convened at LeBow last month: AI is not singular, and it’s not just up-and-coming; it’s already here.

“It’s ubiquitous, but you barely notice it,” says Vinodh Swaminathan, Principal in KPMG’s Innovation & Enterprise Solutions team, capturing the paradox of AI’s mainstream adoption. Swaminathan also put forth a helpful working definition: “It’s not a ‘thing’ – it’s a set of technologies, a set of languages and a set of algorithms. It’s an enabling technology that’s driving enterprises to the next level of productivity.”

Both in responses to questions from moderator Murugan Anandarajan, professor of Management Information Systems and head of the Management and Decision Sciences & MIS departments at LeBow College of Business, and from attendees, the panelists – Swaminathan; Russ Kliman, global leader of SEI Ventures, SEI’s corporate venture capital program; and April Walker, Director of the Microsoft Technology Center in Malvern – contributed insights ranging across industries and even speculated a bit about the technology’s future uses.

“AI and robotics are putting fear into people who think these things will take jobs away,” Walker says. “What it’s going to do is change the way we do business and the way we impact the world.”

Anandarajan traced the roots of AI back to the ancient Greek philosophers, through early “automatons” and the development of the Turing test, all the way up to Alexa, Siri and other applications found in many homes today. Later, Anandarajan asked the panelists to identify a favorite use case and to outline the problem, the AI solution and the impact. While commonplace applications like chatbots, Roombas and the traffic app Waze readily came to mind, Walker cited AI’s impact on overall quality of life through its use in medical technology and disease detection.

Kliman put forth another forward-looking prediction: “It will become like electricity, in terms of what it costs and what it powers.”

“Don’t get caught up in the hype of the technology, because remember the dot com bubble?,” Swaminathan added, stressing a systematic approach as businesses work on identifying AI solutions that are right for them and making it part of their infrastructure.

These same businesses must also address the skill gap between tech adoption and solution implementation. The panelists outlined their companies’ outlook on AI-centered hiring, and all cited the need for “inquisitive and curious” people oriented toward solving problems. Swaminathan noted that his company looks in some unexpected places, including PhD programs both in hard sciences and the liberal arts.

Additionally, Walker identified an emerging job title: solution architect. “They’re the ones shaping how businesses use these technologies, and helping them not just in a technological way but in a business way,” she says.

The May 2 panel was the final event in the Drexel Solutions Institute’s Business and Technology series, focusing on innovation and disruption, during the 2018-19 school year.