Artificial Intelligence Gets Real for Business

Research shows AI-driven platforms are already standard for employment and social media; decentralized networks could prove even more disruptive

MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy
4 min read6 days ago


By Philo Uwamaria and Paula Klein

Introduced slowly at first, digital platforms are rapidly becoming ubiquitous to how we communicate, work, and entertain ourselves. They are upending traditional human resource structures and forward-thinking researchers see even more far-reaching societal impact to come.

At three recent MIT IDE seminars, two speakers described specific examples of digitization at work, while another offered high-level predictions about how a decentralized economy might promote diversity, inclusivity, and democratic values.

Revised Employment Models

Professor Bo Cowgill, an Assistant Professor at Columbia Business School, recently discussed “Matchmaking Principals: Theory and Evidence from Internal Labor Markets.” His research considered the impact of digital employment platforms inside corporate environments.

Source: Bo Cowgill

According to Cowgill, popular platforms such as Upwork, AmazonFlex, Fiverr, and Thumbtack are seizing on the overhaul of traditional job structures and the ‘gigification’ of work. Now, industry giants like Walmart, PepsiCo, Deloitte, Vanguard, Unilever, ABInBev, and Nestle also are using these types of platforms to redefine job descriptions and find talent. In these new models, employees have increased access to job opportunities (gigs) and are more flexible to switch from one gig or work task to another within a short period of time.

Cowgill told attendees that businesses find internal platforms helpful for posting tasks or job openings and the platforms also create more flexible job descriptions that rotate by design. “You’re only in your position for say, three to nine months, and then you use a marketplace to find your next job,” he said.

While internal talent marketplaces work well for the business, they’re mired with challenges.

According to Cowgill, executive-dictated job matches are 33% more effective than randomly assigned matches – those that aren’t influenced by the company or an individual’s preference. However, unlike third-party employment platforms, employer-led markets exclude worker preference matches which are ranked about 38% higher by the workforce.

Therefore, internal labor markets require a tradeoff between work coordination and worker motivation. The markets also raise questions about the future of job hiring, retention, and wage incentives.

Watch Bo Cowgill’s seminar presentation here. Read the reserach paper here.

The Power of Algorithms

Alex Moehring, MIT IDE PhD candidate, drilled down on news feed preferences in his recent talk on “Personalized News feeds and User Engagement.” Using Reddit as a case study, he found that digital platforms and their recommendation engines are definitely changing how people interact on social media platforms. Specifically, posts ranked higher by the Reddit algorithm received a notably higher number of comments and likes than those ranked lower. The findings confirm how much these rankings shape the exposure and engagement of content on the Reddit platform.

Overall, the results reflect what’s happening across other social media platforms — reliance on algorithms to determine what content appears on users’ media feeds.

The research also points out that algorithms promoting low-quality posts on users’ news feeds deny them access to higher-quality digital information.

Read the research paper here.

High Hopes for High Tech

Glen Weyl, research lead of Microsoft Research’s special project, the Plural Technology Collaboratory, offered a high-level perspective of things to come.

Talking about “Plurality: Technology for Collaborative Diversity and Democracy,” Weyl raised crucial concerns about the future of decentralized economies fueled by the blockchain and the metaverse. At the same time, he optimistically touted the positive potential of widespread digital platforms and broad online networks in fostering collaborative diversity and democracy.

Weyl defines plurality as digital democracy, which can be used to reimagine social organizations by recognizing and celebrating social differences.

“They’re emergent. They’re complex, and they’re evolving,” Weyl said of decentralized models. And so, he argues, in order to have democracy in the modern world, “it can’t be nation-state democracy; it can’t be the democracy of the past. It has to be a democracy that adapts to the changing conditions of technologies...”

According to Weyl, digital platforms are crucial for empowering marginalized individuals and fostering inclusivity in decision-making processes.

He believes digital platforms can bridge societal differences by increasing information access, amplifying divergent opinions, and encouraging information sharing. The results will be more equitable and democratic societies with greater participation online. Weyl is mindful of the drawbacks, too, and warns of the bias, discrimination, and power imbalances that could also arise.

Watch Glen Weyl’s seminar presentation here.

While approaching digital platforms from different perspectives, the three talks reinforce the ways that new models are upending traditional labor markets, impacting information quality, and could hold the key to diversity and inclusivity.

Clearly, leaders should seriously explore platform models that are no longer way off in the future — they are at work today and looming large for tomorrow.



MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy

Addressing one of the most critical issues of our time: the impact of digital technology on businesses, the economy, and society.