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What is the future of AI in business? Understanding ethical concerns

Artificial intelligence, or AI, has become a hot topic in business. With the launches of ChatGPT and Google’s Bard, in late 2022 and early 2023 respectively, AI is becoming more important to business owners, staff, clients, and customers. 

As public use of AI rises, so do questions regarding the ethical concerns around AI and its future in business. In addition to navigating AI trends in the business field, faculty at Ohio University are looking into AI business practices to ensure OHIO graduates are ready to implement AI effectively and ethically in their future workplaces. 

“With these AI systems, we need to make sure our students understand how to best optimize their use. Finding the balance of how the tools can make your life easier, but not replace the work that you’re doing. That is one of the key areas we are focusing on in the College of Business – to understand how to effectively use [AI] and understand the distinct line of what is and what is not your own work,” Dr. Jim Strode, associate dean of undergraduate programs in the College of Business, says.

Using AI ethically in the classroom and workplace

Some business programs are already looking at AI and examining the business strategy behind its use, including its ethical implications. OHIO's Bachelor of Science in Business (BSB) program, a 100 percent fully online business degree designed to help students at any career stage, is one such program.

When it comes to the future of AI in business, Brian Hoyt, D.B.A. and professor of management and director of the BSB program, recognizes that business students today need to be prepared for AI in the workplace and to consider AI’s broader implications.

“We’ve got a responsibility to not just encourage, but help students think about AI in a critical way. Is it good? Is it bad? How do we use it? Those are all questions students won’t just face 10 years into their career, but right off the bat, so their input will be important for those companies,” Hoyt says. 

The BSB program is giving students experience with AI in business through some critical thinking-based, in-class work, as well as business simulations in several courses, including the students’ capstone experiential learning experience. 

This fall, students in BSB course SAM 3920, Business Simulation, are participating in a “business strategy game,” a business simulation and experiential learning opportunity for working adults. Students make multiple decisions on how to run a company in a competitive environment, from choices in operations, spokespeople, promotion costs, distribution efforts, and more. After these decisions are inputted, the software will run a simulation about what would happen in the marketplace, with the output scenarios aided by AI. 

“When it comes to AI literacy, we absolutely need to make a commitment to students to teach it,” Hoyt continues. “While it’s definitely in terms and understanding the concept, I think part of it, too, is understanding the algorithms and the levels of machine learning.” 

Hoyt and Strode agree that there is a clear line between using AI to help one’s work and using it to pass as one’s own. They also note that since AI is ever-developing, it is important to look at its uses in business and beyond through an ethical lens. 

Ethical concerns surrounding the future of AI in business

Robert Föehl, J.D., is an executive-in-residence for business law and ethics in OHIO’s College of Business and has expertise in business ethics and leadership ethics

Föehl describes three stages of AI: narrow AI, where we are now with generative tools and programming; artificial general intelligence, where AI has the intelligence level of human beings; and then artificial superintelligence, where AI is smarter than the smartest human beings. The second and third stages generate ethical questions, Föehl says, such as: How do we deal with biases in AI? How will AI view humans? Will AI harm humans? How will AI impact society? Should we stop using AI?

“The top concern I have for AI is what will artificial intelligence’s disposition be towards humans, what harm it can cause,” Föehl says. “We need to figure out how we develop AI that is safe for individuals, safe for society and safe for humanity.” 

Föehl notes that there are already concerns about possible harm AI may cause: how AI may treat people due to bias, the possibility of physical harm as AI makes choices in autonomous driving situations (and other automated decision-making scenarios), and how an artificial superintelligence’s disposition may develop toward humans. 

Concern about the future of AI in business is not new. Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking warned about the dangers of AI before his passing.

“The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race,” he said in a 2014 interview with the BBC. “It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate. … Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”

Despite the possible concerns on how AI may develop, Föehl encourages everyone, including business students, to develop a better understanding of AI. The more understanding people develop around the implications of AI, including the future of AI in business and the use of AI in everyday life, the better informed they will be to develop ethical processes in the years to come.

“AI will be transformational to the way we live, how we interact, and how society operates,” Föehl says. “That is reason enough to make sure that you have an understanding of AI as it develops, not just now, but over time as well.” 

September 21, 2023
Jalyn Bolyard