A.I. Classes from Microsoft Aim to Educate Executives

Tech pros recognize the value of artificial intelligence (A.I.) and machine learning. Getting executives and non-techie staffers to sign onto a complicated, expensive A.I. initiative… well, that’s another matter entirely.

Microsoft’s new AI Business School is designed to eliminate some of the friction around companywide adoption of A.I., with a series of instructional videos and documentation that show how to launch an A.I.-centric strategy.

The coursework includes:

  • Defining an AI strategy
  • Enabling an AI-ready culture
  • Responsible AI in business
  • AI technology for business leaders

Because the materials are aimed at executives without a lot of time or technical expertise, there’s a school-wide emphasis on shorter videos and guides; nor do the materials drill too deeply into the technical aspects of A.I.

“Developing a strategy for AI extends beyond the business issues,” Mitra Azizirad, corporate vice president for AI marketing at Microsoft, wrote in a blog posting announcing the program. “It goes all the way to the leadership, behaviors and capabilities required to instill an AI-ready culture in your organization.”

But some executives may find it hard to adapt to an A.I.-centric culture. For instance, Microsoft advocates opening up the development of such a culture to as many employees and divisions as possible; in theory, that free flow of data and ideas (and the breaking down of “data silos) will result in robust, comprehensive A.I. initiatives. The reality, however, is that many executives like to defend their territory, and might prove reluctant to letting engineers and managers from other divisions jump into their projects.

A.I. projects are also a sizable time and money investment, and it can sometimes prove difficult to convince executives to jump onboard something that might not yield tangible benefits for years. However, with more companies throwing substantial amounts of cash behind A.I. initiatives, even the most Luddite executive might sign off on a series of machine-learning projects out of fear of being left behind. (While a minority of companies plan on integrating A.I. into their operations at the moment, that will surely change in years ahead as tools become more sophisticated.)

Should executives jump onboard an artificial intelligence initiative, they might experience a version of sticker shock: A.I. and machine-learning experts can cost quite a bit of money. For example, artificial intelligence experts pulled down an average salary of $151,229 in San Francisco last year; in New York, the average salary for those specialists was $159,998. If A.I. is the way of the future, that future is mighty expensive (in addition to time-consuming). Hopefully, Microsoft’s new school can prepare executives for that challenge, as well.