Machine Learning & AI? It’s about understanding what data can and cannot do. | University of St.Gallen MBA

Machine Learning & AI? It’s about understanding what data can and cannot do.

2 Jun 2022

Prof. Binswanger Johannes

An interview with Prof. Johannes Binswanger, Elective Course Lecturer

A mini-blog series, by Daniel Cade

Next to his research and teaching, Prof. Johannes Binswanger is an avid mountaineer. As I learned this about him, I wondered out loud whether there were any parallels between his sport and subject matter. “Absolutely!” he exclaimed. “In mountaineering, you have a probabilistic element which is common to many statistical and machine learning tasks. You’re forced to make decisions in uncertain conditions, determining, for example, the risks involved in taking the path with the frozen snow instead of the rocky path!”

Johannes has been teaching the elective “Machine Learning & AI: Impact on Business” for a number of years now in the MBA programme, and his mission is to demystify this often-misinterpreted topic. He makes no attempt to dress it up with bells and whistles – Machine Learning and AI come pre-dressed these days. Johannes’ approach is rather to undress it, to explain what it is and what it is not. “No amount of data will enable us to predict, for example, whether there will be a decoupling between China and the West by 2030,” he explained. “However, if you combine data from all over the world about a certain medical condition and pass it through an algorithm, the algorithm will bear witness to significantly more cases than any individual or group of doctors could, and so tends to provide a much better diagnosis.”

From loan granting to bicycle rental and flower recognition, Johannes takes students through a series of prototypical cases that teach an intuitive understanding of precisely what data can and cannot do, and how it can impact your business. Just before leaving the call, Johannes joked that he and Marc Schöni, his co-teacher on the Machine Learning and AI elective, have gained the reputation among current students as “the guys who you don’t need to feel afraid to ask stupid questions to.” He didn’t intend for the comment to be part of this write-up, but I get the feeling it summarises perfectly why this course has proven to be so successful, and why it will continue to be part of the MBA programme going forward.

Johannes’ elective is just one of our digital skills focused elective courses. After all, the manager of the future cannot escape technology, and data is the new currency.