It’s been a few years since I’ve completed a course in which I’ve had to hand in weekly assignments and wait for teachers to grade it. Wow, I also for some reason don’t miss those times. Anyway. Now, it was time to learn about a topic that is top of mind for so many at the moment. It’s on everyone’s mind regardless if your the highest paid CEO or an everyday 9-5 worker somewhere. AI a.k.a. artificial intelligence which relates to other things you might have heard such as machine learning, deep learning, natural language processing and many more. It’s a term being thrown around like big data, web 2.0, the internets and whatnot back in the day which held massive promises and lived up to some. People want to understand what the hype is and if robots are going to take away jobs and take over humanity overall.
We all know that it’s hard to wrap our heads around something that’s hyped, where do you start? McKinsey is also trying to help executives to understand because it is so important. They state “The potential for AI to infuse business and value chains across various industries is greater than ever before—but where should executives start?”. I think this MIT course is the right place to start.
The MIT – Massachusetts Institute of Technology – advertised a course that would focus on AI and its implications for business strategy. Specifically, they write in the course description:
“This online program from the MIT Sloan School of Management and the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) challenges common misconceptions surrounding AI and will equip and encourage you to embrace AI as part of a transformative toolkit.”
So far, all sounds great and this course will indeed help you get a basic grasp of AI beyond what you see on magazine or newspaper covers. The course can be completed in 6 weeks and only takes 4-5 hours each week to complete. It’s a great primer for non-technical people to learn about AI. Here’s my review of the course with some key learnings.
Who is this course for (in my view)?
If you’ve got a PhD in Computer Science and work at Google, this is not for you. This is not even for someone who’s worked and educated themselves on the latest developments of AI in the past few years. Although, you’ll learn some things either way. This course is mainly targeted and suitable for executives or more broadly business-people without a background in tech. The course covers the conceptual basis of AI with a harbour cruise around all the related fields such as machine learning (ML), natural language processing (NLP) and the societal impacts of this new technology.
If you work in business and heard that AI will have a massive impact, take jobs, make the world a great place but you have no clue how, in what way and why now, then this course will give you a great map to orientate yourself in this new, emerging topic. Especially, if you work in a traditional industry such as auditing, life science, manufacturing this will give you a great idea what the many areas of AI mean to you.
As with any good review, I want to make this balanced and emphasise again that this is my personal view. I am some technology and engineering background and work in a role that’s on the intersection of tech and business. But, I don’t write code every day, in fact, I almost never do. I mostly talk to customers to educate them about the possibilities of technology. From that experience, I know that this course would be beneficial to many as there is a massive gap between where the state of the art is and what state many companies are in.
Alright, here we go.
Structure & Key Facts
Orientation module Welcome to your Online Campus
Module 1 An Introduction to AI
Module 2 Machine Learning in Business
Module 3 Natural Language Processing in Business
Module 4 Robotics in Business
Module 5 AI in Business and Society
Module 6 The Future of Artificial Intelligence
Duration: 6 weeks (6-8 hours per week officially)
- High-quality material with good references and resources
- Very interactive forum with participants in a wide range of roles and industries
- Balanced, easily-digestible overview of AI
- A big plus for including a chapter around the ethics and societal implications of AI
- Low-effort for working professionals at around 4-5 hours per week
- Exercises which force you to think about the implications of AI for your organisation
- Completion certification by the MIT which provides an accredited credential for you which you can share on LinkedIn an show others that you’re not a Luddite
- Price, this course is rather expensive and if you can’t get your employer to pay for it I would say that the course does provide too little for the money invested compared to other more affordable resources online
- If you have some background in AI and have delved into the topic a bit, then this course will probably be of less benefit. Surely, you will learn new viewpoints and aspects around AI but it might not be worth the investment
- No option to download the videos and learn on the road. Assuming you’re a busy professional, then having a stable internet connection on a train, plane or wherever you might be don’t allow you to make most of the downtime.
The course clearly defined AI in the context of traditional business strategy. The usual suspects of cost leadership, differentiation and focus pop up and based on that different application of AI become relevant for a business.
Roles of AI are also nicely defined. AI comes in different shapes and forms. The course classifies these as:
- Tools – devices, applications and algorithms we use to do work e.g. trend prediction
- Assistants – helpers in everyday tasks that take initiative e.g. recommendations
- Peers – computers that perform the same or similar tasks e.g. automated customer service with chatbots
- Manager – computers or machines that direct humans e.g. automated task assignment, traffic lights (remember the Manhunt on Netflix?)
Another great learning was the O-ring principle. The O-ring principle as a collection of tasks that need to be done together to successfully accomplish the main task. If some of the tasks involved can be automated, the economic value of the human inputs for the other tasks that can’t be done by machines will increase. In any complex enterprise, as improvements of reliability with automation improve, the less reliable tasks that are not automated become more crucial. Therefore, these also become more valuable and overall the salaries paid to ensure the full task completion should increase.
Lastly, the aspect that I enjoyed most and that is not emphasised enough is ethics and especially bias. AI and machine learning, in particular, is prone to bias as the machines learn from past data. If past data is biased then this will lead to biased outcomes of machine predictions. There is a real danger here and I thoroughly enjoyed how the course addressed the topic. Here’s a great video illustrating what bias is and how AI could lead to negative bias at scale.
As I’ve mentioned before, the course is great for absolute beginners who haven’t had any exposure to AI and the possibilities of this great technology. If you have a few hours per week to invest and can get your employer to pay for it then this course will give you a good overview which will set the starting point to explore further on how AI can impact you and your company or organisation. I hope you’ve enjoyed the review, check my resources below as well for some good bedtime reading on this topic. Also, if you have someone who’s considering this course, share this or leave a comment.
Now, it’s time for me to share this little accomplishment on LinkedIn – thank you for reading!
I’ve put together a few of my favourite books on the topic of how AI and automation as part of technological progress impacts organisations, businesses and society overall. All the below books are aimed at readers who don’t necessarily have a technical background but want to understand the potential benefits and risks of technology.