2023 Year-End Update From Dr. Valery Yakubovich

Dear Members of the Mack Community, 

As 2023 comes to a close and we are entering the holiday season, it’s clear what distinguishes this year for the Mack Institute. While our agenda has always been focused on innovations driven by technological disruption, this is the first time a new technology has so drastically disrupted our activities. The arrival of Generative AI last November provoked an existential crisis in higher education with immediate effects on our research and teaching. I’m glad we had the capabilities to respond, and we did so swiftly. 

Already in January, our faculty co-director Christian Terwiesch published the paper “Would ChatGPT Get a Wharton MBA?” which received over 18,000 views on our website and was covered by the Financial Times. Christian didn’t stop there. His second paper showed that ChatGPT generates better novel ideas than MBA students. It found its way to The Wall Street Journal and, most importantly, indicated the promise of Generative AI for innovation management. 

Our team responded by integrating Generative AI into our core activities. Four out of the seven projects that our corporate partners offered to students within our Collaborative Innovation Program this semester have a Generative AI component. To help our faculty and PhD students master Generative AI as a research tool, we organized a two-day workshop that introduced 21 participants to the uses of Large Language Models for data generation, coding, analysis, and writing. More than seventy business practitioners engaged in thought-provoking exchanges at our Fall Conference on Driving Innovation with Generative AI that took place less than two weeks ago. Last but not least, our team is currently experimenting with the use of Large Language Models for automating the assessment of the commercialization potential of academic research at Penn. 

In this regard, the arrival of Generative AI was very timely; it gave us a new tool to respond to the needs of Penn’s innovation ecosystem. Among our longstanding but still very effective tools is the Commercialization Workshop for faculty-inventors that took place in May for the first time since 2019, with David Hsu as faculty director and nearly 60 participants from Penn Medicine, CHOP, Veterinary School, and Penn Engineering. 

Most importantly, we’re bringing Wharton’s business expertise to Penn engineering and medical faculty in the areas of autonomous driving and robotics for healthcare. Such collaborations are not always easy. Management researchers do not normally invent but study others’ inventions, and the publication cycle in management is longer than in engineering. While excellent Wharton students help faculty translate management knowledge into business practice, we are continuously looking for synergies between research in management and engineering. John Paul MacDuffie’s recent paper on technological disruption and mobility innovation is informed by our project on autonomous driving for electric vehicles and, in turn, informs the next steps of that project. 

All these programs and initiatives would be impossible without the active engagement of Wharton faculty who remain our main stakeholders and whose research is our core asset. To strengthen our support, we welcomed to campus the first cohort of predoctoral research fellows who started their two-year appointments with faculty in the departments of Business Economics and Public Policy, Management, and Marketing. In response to the highly positive feedback and renewed interest from the faculty, we are expanding the program next year with two additional positions. 

Finally, to accelerate the transfer of our faculty’s research into business practice, we expanded the variety of formats and venues for interactions between our faculty and practitioners. A webinar on Generative AI as a disruptive technology in June featured Wharton Profs. Ethan Mollick and Christian Terwiesch engaged in a lively exchange with Prof. Christian Callison-Burch from SEAS. It was followed by Prof. Daniel Kim’s moderation of the panel on scaling entrepreneurial ventures at the Venture Café in Philadelphia’s University City in October, and a webinar on the implications of Generative AI for jobs with Profs. Peter Cappelli, Manav Raj, and Daniel Rock in November. 

All these initiatives are works in progress, complementing a variety of other ongoing engagements with faculty and research fellows, students and alumni, companies, and innovation ecosystems. With plenty of exciting things in play, we are focusing on the nuts and bolts of implementation. Our team is grateful for and counts on your support. Happy Holidays!