Much has been made of ChatGPT’s ability to pass multiple graduate-level assessments — including MBA-level exams and the legal profession’s bar exam—but is the new AI-powered chatbot so impressive it will soon put swathes of human white-collar managers out of work?
It’s a question Professor Oded Netzer determined to find out when he opened up ChatGPT recently and plugged in some straight - forward facts about a company across two years of business: Sales had fallen from $10 million in 2019 to $8 million in 2020; call center complaints had increased from 100,000 to 150,000 during that time; and so on. “Explain what is going on with this company,” Netzer’s prompt instructed.
ChatGPT’s answer began, “Based on the information provided, it appears that the company experienced a decrease in sales between 2019 and 2020,” and continued in that vein, summa - rizing the information it had been given.
The response wouldn’t have earned a pass from Netzer. Why? Because the chatbot had merely summarized the prompt rather than offering any higher level insights. Netzer expects more from his CBS students because more will be expected of them as business leaders. He predicts the AI tool won’t be replacing business decision-makers anytime soon—as long as those decision-makers understand that the value they bring to their roles is changing.
“At the heart of management and leadership roles is the ability to see what everybody else is seeing and think what nobody else is thinking— to look at different pieces of information, apply critical thinking, and pour on some judgment to arrive at a synthesis and eventually a decision,” Netzer explains. “Synthesizing information means going beyond the “what” in the data to “So what?”—what does it mean—and “Now what?”—what should we do about it?”
Not long before the launch of ChatGPT, Netzer co-authored a book, Decisions Over Decimals: Striking the Balance Between Intuition and Information, with CBS adjunct professors Christopher J. Frank and Paul F. Magnone. The book zeroes in on the importance of business leaders focusing on synthesis rather than merely summarizing information, and explains where big data can fit in. When ChatGPT burst on the scene, the book’s themes took on a new urgency.
Netzer has devoted much of his academic career to exploring how unstructured data (that is, data not formatted for structured database storage, whether it’s audio, video, text, internet of things sensor data, and so on) can be used to support sound decision-making. In the following Q&A, he applies his expertise to some of the most pressing concerns for business leaders raised by ChatGPT: Is AI poised to encroach on the jobs of human decision-makers? What technological developments could lead us there? And how can MBA programs ensure their graduates maintain their relevance?