AI Will Revolutionize Business, Business Education, and Democracy, Experts Say

By: Alison Fromme
A man in a suit with a microphone asks a question.

Kaleb Kavuma '26 asks a question at the SC Johnson College AI conference, held in London on March 15.

Artificial intelligence in product development, finance, higher education, democracy, and more were the topics of lively discussion at a recent conference organized by the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, the University of Oxford Saïd Business School, and the Cornell Club of the United Kingdom.

Andrew Karolyi, Charles Field Knight Dean of the SC Johnson College, and Soumitra Dutta, dean of Saïd, hosted the event, “Deeply Responsible Leadership: Harnessing Artificial Intelligence to Do the Greatest Good,” on March 15 at the Peninsula Hotel in London. Henry Renard ’54, MBA ’55, and the Ada Howe Kent Foundation sponsored the program, which featured industry leaders and 14 faculty and alumni speakers from the two schools. More than 150 alumni, students, and friends of the two universities attended the event to learn and share experiences about the ever-changing AI landscape.

“Our mission as a college of business is to develop business leaders who are agile, who are people-centered, and who think responsibly, whatever comes at them in their business life,” Karolyi said. “Generative AI can be just one of those industry disruptors for which our students will be ready to address.”

AI, Elections, and Democracy

Stylized illustration of a computer chip, in red.

“It’s an intelligence explosion,” said British journalist Christian Fraser in his keynote address. “Artificial general intelligence in a short period of time will be writing and rewriting its own code. And within our lifetimes it will be as ubiquitous as the internet. What does that mean for the way we live?”

Taking a broad view on AI, elections, and democracy, Fraser said that most people would agree AI poses serious challenges to our democratic freedoms. More than 4 billion people –half the world’s population– are eligible to vote this year in elections around the world. And voters will encounter AI-generated misinformation.

Paradoxically, he said, “Our heightened awareness of fake news leads us to distrust genuine content, in what we call the liar’s dividend, and there’s been such a corrosive attack on real information that people trust practically nothing.”

On a recent episode of Fraser’s BBC show, The Context, he demonstrated the dangers of AI generated audio. In advance, Fraser’s team scraped recordings of his voice from the internet and created a voice text message to send to the show’s guest requesting a copy of their passport for BBC security. The guest complied.

Trust in AI and tech companies has dropped in the past five years, and the technology is developing so rapidly that legislation can’t keep up, Fraser said.

“Everything discussed today is at the heart of the greatest risk to our democracy and our elections,” he said. “So you’ve thought about [AI] in industry terms, but unless we have free and fair elections, then nothing is guaranteed.”

AI in Business Education

In her opening remarks, Deirdre Gobeille Snyder, lecturer in marketing and management communication at the Cornell Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration, said she began experimenting with AI in her classes in 2023, and her students were shocked that a writing professor would allow such tools.

“What we’ve learned together is that generative AI can be an effective coauthor when the student’s thinking is clear,” Snyder said. “I found that AI can make good writing better. It can make bad writing at least grammatically correct. But it cannot think for students.”

With a university-wide committee, Snyder developed guidelines and recommendations for the use of generative AI in education, released in the spring of 2023.

“Our committee was unanimous in the belief that generative AI would have the power to revolutionize every aspect of business education and research,” Snyder said. Recently, she led another committee of SC Johnson College faculty that developed teaching and research recommendations specific to business.

Adding AI-based personal assistants, customer service agents, data analysts, supply chain optimizers and more to a business can change what’s possible. But, AI can also lie “spectacularly well,” Snyder cautioned. “With the promise and peril of AI, it is our obligation as educators and business leaders to teach students and employees how to employ tools in a deeply responsible way.”

Defining the Future

The potential for artificial intelligence to revolutionize emerging markets interested Paul Kavuma, MBA ’93, of Acquisition Group Inc.

“Ten or 15 years ago, mobile applications accelerated the advancement of certain economies,” said Kavuma, the 2022 inaugural recipient of the Emerging Markets Institute Cañizares Alumni Award. “Now there is both a risk and an opportunity that AI can have a similar impact of leapfrogging educational barriers and access in emerging markets.”

Ayca Eren Kumcuoglu, MBA ’93, of Lydia Capital Management, said she was interested to learn about the potential application of AI in hedge funds and how AI can interpret the behavior of consumers or potential investors.

“I was very happy to see Cornell defining what the future might look like, in terms of jobs and business,” she said.

This article is part of a series:
Part 1: AI Will Revolutionize Business, Business Education, and Democracy

Part 2: Artificial Intelligence Could Soon Make Management Decisions
Part 3: AI Opens New Frontiers in Finance