Valentine’s Day is tomorrow. Love is in the air … and on the internet, where many singles will turn to score a date. About 30% of U.S. adults—including 53% of people under 30—have used a dating site or app, according to 2022 Pew Research Center data. According to the same survey, 40% of users say online dating has made the search for a long-time partner easier.
Dating apps make no secret of their use of artificial intelligence (AI) to help users find their perfect match, although just how the algorithms work is less clear. Many of the most popular dating apps — including Tinder, Bumble, eHarmony and OKCupid — use the data you provide and your interactions within the apps to curate lists of potential matches, making the sea of fish a little bit smaller and more manageable, said Liberty Vittert, a professor of practice of data science at Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis.
But recent reports of online dating app users employing AI to strike up conversations and flirt with matches—or worse, scam them—have some saying AI has gone too far.
Romance ‘beyond reach’ for robots
Plenty of would-be suitors—fictional and real—have sought help to woo their love interests. Who can forget “Cyrano de Bergerac,” the 19th-century play that tells the story of a man who helps his inarticulate rival win Roxanne’s heart by feeding him love poems and letters? But human romance is beyond reach, currently, for robots, Vittert said.
“Robots don’t have human emotions. We are actually a long way away from what we see in movies,” Vittert said. “They don’t work very well outside what they are programmed to do. For example, they can beat a grand master at chess, but if you then ask it to choose to play checkers instead, it can’t necessarily make that decision.”
And because the technology is so new, no one is regulating or stopping it.
“The scariest part is that we have no idea what the implications are going to be, but we do know that when the use of AI has been rushed, that there are dire consequences,” Vittert said.
For example, police relying on AI facial recognition to decide who to arrest, when the algorithm does a terrible job identifying people of color “has resulted in completely innocent individuals being jailed for up to a week,” Vittert said, “or Amazon hiring based on resumes that had the keywords ‘fraternity, male, lacrosse,’ we have already seen serious, unforeseen consequences.”
How to spot a bot
As with any dating situation—online or in person—it’s important to use caution. Avoid sharing personal information and do not respond to requests for financial help. Most importantly, listen to your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, there’s a good chance it’s not.
“Warning signs that you might be chatting with a bot versus a real person are going to be hard to tell as the AI gets better and better, but if you think it seems a little off, a little weird, not quite getting the tone—that is where you can tell,” Vittert said.
“AI can’t yet understand humor or tone, so if the responses to your humor or tone don’t seem to jive, then it’s possible you are talking to a bot.”
Interim Dean Anjan Thakor on Thursday announced the winners of the 2023 Olin Award: The authors of “Nip it in the Bud! Managing the Opioid Crisis: Supply Chain Response to Anomalous Buyer Behavior.”
The paper is by Seethu Seetharaman, the W. Patrick McGinnis Professor of Marketing and co-director of Center for Analytics and Business Insights (CABI); Michael Wall, professor of practice in marketing and entrepreneurship and co-director of CABI; Anthony Sardella, adjunct lecturer and senior research advisor at CABI; and Annie L. Shi, a doctoral student in marketing.
Seetharaman and Wall met with Thakor and Todd Milbourn, interim deputy dean and Hubert C. & Dorothy R. Moog Professor of Finance, in the dean’s suite Thursday morning and for the surprise announcement.
“I’ve got great news,” Thakor said. “Congratulations. You’re the winner of the 2023 Olin Award.”
Richard Mahoney, Olin distinguished executive in residence and former chairman and CEO of Monsanto, initiated the award, now in its 16th year, to promote scholarly research that has timely practical applications for complex management problems. He joined the meeting by Zoom.
“Let me add my congratulations,” Mahoney said. “I’ve been making these congratulations for a number of years, and this is a particular pleasure.”
“We’re delighted to hear this,” Seetharaman said. “And much appreciated, Dick. We’re deeply appreciative of the attention you’ve given our research.”
Their work comes under the auspices of the Olin Brookings Commission, a project by WashU Olin and the Brookings Institution to address critical policy issues affecting communities.
‘The potential to save lives’
“Your team’s work has quickly shown promise as a law enforcement tool to flag transactions that divert often legitimate prescription therapies toward illicit uses,” Thakor said.
“Your work, no doubt, has the potential to save lives.”
The winning paper will be presented at a virtual luncheon in April or May. The faculty authors will split a $25,000 award from Mahoney.
Of the 20 papers submitted, six went on to the second round, rated by corporate judges as research with potential impact to business, Thakor said.
Two tied for runner-up: “The Political Polarization of Corporate America,” by Margarita Tsoutsoura, associate professor of finance; and “Diversity Messages That Invite Allies in Diversity Efforts,” by Hannah Birnbaum, assistant professor of organizational behavior.
Pictured at top: Milbourn, Wall, Seetharaman and Thakor in the dean’s suite.
“Let me emphasize that all of this is actually true, in case you think I’m joking,” said Elfenbein, John K. Wallace, Jr. and Ellen A. Wallace Distinguished Professor and professor of organizational behavior at Olin Business School. Her areas of expertise are negotiation, leadership and women in leadership.
Bottom is associate dean and academic director for Undergraduate Programs and the Howard and Marilyn Wood Distinguished Professor at Olin.
‘The Empire Strikes Back’
In the chapter, “we use the storyline of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ to illustrate rigorous academic principles based on our own research,” Elfenbein says.
They describe the deal that Lando reached with Darth Vader, how it fell apart and what Lando’s experience says about negotiator satisfaction and deal implementation in and outside the “Star Wars”universe.
“The Empire Strikes Back” doesn’t reveal the exact bargaining process and terms Lando and Darth Vader reach. But “we can infer that Vader deploys some of his typical high-pressure tactics to get what he wants,” and, Elfenbein and Bottom write, “likely promises to ignore the illegal gas mining operation on Cloud City if Lando welcomes Han and Leia so that Vader can use them as bait to attract Luke Skywalker.”
The mine is too small for the Empire to care about, but its operation outside the law makes Lando vulnerable to government scrutiny. Vader uses that fact to pressure Lando to agree.
Lying from the outset
“Vader appears to have been lying to Lando from the outset. He claims Han and Leia will go free once Luke arrives, but in truth has already contracted with the bounty hunter to deliver Lando’s old frenemy to Jabba the Hutt.”
The change marks the transition to a second phase in dealing with Lando. “Once Han and Leia arrive, Vader reneges on his word again, creating a third phase of the deal terms in which he insists Leia and Chewbacca remain under Lando’s supervision in Cloud City, never to leave.”
Integrity matters—in the Star Wars universe and in this one. Vader’s willingness to cut a deal and then renege on it over and over again eventually proved to be his undoing.
That change pushes Lando to the brink. Han is frozen in carbonite and carried away, and Vader demands that Lando take Leia and Chewbacca to his Imperial ship. “With this last change marking a fourth phase of the deal, Lando can no longer abide by it. He battles stormtroopers, escapes with Leia and Chewbacca on the Millennium Falcon, and joins up with the rebellion against the Empire.”
Vader’s continued push to win the most favorable terms for himself backfires and contributes to his demise.
Feelings of satisfaction
Among the lessons, according to the authors: Most of us negotiate with something less than overwhelming leverage. We need to build relationships and foster a mutually beneficial exchange to undertake complicated projects. We rely on the assurance that our counterparts will hold up their end of the bargain and accommodate necessary adjustments.
“The mindset and orientation to develop goodwill may flow from the Force but certainly not from the dark side,” they write. We can learn effective listening and rapport-building. Turn-taking and reciprocity can further open communication to reveal opportunities for mutual gain. “In a virtuous cycle, this builds momentum and confidence in the counterpart’s integrity while establishing a foundation for crafting value-creating deal terms. Such deals rely on negotiators’ feelings of satisfaction—which is a lesson Darth Vader learned the hard way.”
“Integrity matters—in the Star Wars universe and in this one,” Bottom said. “Vader’s willingness to cut a deal and then renege on it over and over again eventually proved to be his undoing. Those who can’t control the Force can build a reputation for integrity and trustworthiness that can be its own kind of force.”
Jedi mind tricks
Back to those questions.
Which “Star Wars” character would you bring to a car dealership?
Elfenbein: “Yoda. He has Jedi mind tricks while also being easy to underestimate.”
Was it right for Han to shoot first in the cantina scene of “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope”?
“Yes. Based on economic game theory, you are supposed to compete in a one-shot game.”
Did it make sense for Darth Vader to keep changing the terms of his deal with Lando in “The Empire Strikes Back”?
“As Bill and I wrote, yes, the first time. And maybe the second. But definitely not the third.”
The last three years have tested the strength and resiliency of American small businesses. While there are signs the economic conditions are improving — inflation has come down faster than expected and the labor market continues to add jobs — small businesses are likely to feel the pinch of rising interest rates, a looming recession threat and persistent labor shortages in 2023, according to Peter Boumgarden, the Koch Family Professor of Practice in Family Enterprise at Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis.
“Understanding and addressing the challenges facing small businesses will be key to promoting long-term economic recovery. This can be done both by favorable policy conditions, but also by giving these leaders and owners the framing to know how to approach this market with agility.”
Challenge No. 1: Rising interest rates
In 2022, the Federal Reserve increased interest rates seven times to a 15-year high in an aggressive attempt to address inflation. More interest hikes are expected for 2023.
“Rising interest rates will be one of the biggest challenges for small business across sectors because it will limit their access to capital, which in the past would have been relatively easier to get,” Boumgarden said.
With the cost of borrowing increasing, Boumgarden said that many small business owners will rethink plans to expand or take on large projects that traditionally would require an injection of a business loan. In some cases, those projects may be put on hold in 2023. Or, perhaps they’ll look for other ways to fund the project, like dipping into existing cash reserves.
“Many privately held businesses have to choose on whether they prioritize growth, liquidity or control, and a change in access to capital might also shift that decision point.”
Challenge No. 2: The economy
Some economic challenges — inflation in particular — will not be felt equally across industries.
“If we enter into recessionary headwinds, you want to be thinking how sensitive your consumer is to these pressures, and how it impacts buying behavior,” Boumgarden said.
‘If we enter into recessionary headwinds, you want to be thinking how sensitive your consumer is to these pressures, and how it impacts buying behavior.’
Typically, the industries hit hardest — small or large — by recession are real estate, construction, manufacturing, retail, leisure and hospitality, Boumgarden said.
“What makes these industries particularly vulnerable is that consumers are more sensitive to price changes. They have the choice to push off the purchase, cut back or find cheaper alternatives, all of which can cut into your top line,” he said.
Restaurant owners, for example, already are feeling the effects of rising food prices and wage growth, he said. With a relatively small profit window, many have no choice but to raise menu prices. But that means cost-conscious consumers will have to make choices like eating out less and choosing less expensive chain restaurants.
“If your buyer is unwilling to pay more, you have to eat the higher cost of goods, and thus live with tighter margins. All of this implies the need for the business owner to play out the chess match of how these subtle shifts will impact the financial outcomes of their business,” Boumgarden said.
Challenge No. 3: Labor
“We’ve all heard people gripe, ‘nobody wants to work anymore,’ but the problem is actually much more complex,” Boumgarden said.
“Research at the Brookings Institution suggests many systemic issues, including lower immigration, lack of child care, underinvestment and uneven investment in talent, discrimination and more, are impacting the labor pool available to small businesses. While small businesses can do small things to address these issues, policy innovation is needed as well.”
The coming year will undoubtedly be challenging; however, small businesses have some advantages over large corporations. If they play their cards right, Boumgarden said they may face less disruption in the coming year. For starters, small businesses have the advantage of being nimble — a skill many perfected during the pandemic.
“Because they’re not bogged down by bureaucracy, small businesses are often able to experiment and pursue new opportunities more easily,” Boumgarden said. “If I were a small business owner, I would be asking what kinds of small experiments I can run in the next six months that help me address the coming headwinds.”
“Compared with publicly traded corporations, smaller, privately held companies also have the benefit of being able to give their business plans time to develop with a longer time horizon for performance. They do not have investors breathing down their neck expecting an immediate return, and thus might benefit from this patient capital. During times of economic downturn, this can be a very big advantage.”
Small businesses also have another priceless advantage over large corporations: public trust.
“The opportunity for small business is to find ways to highlight and leverage that trust to differentiate them from larger competitors. Think shopping at your local corner bookstore rather than ordering from Amazon. Amazon may be able to offer two-day shipping, but local bookstores can offer the personal touches like personal reviews and community meeting spaces. Plus, consumers like knowing they support businesses that support their local community. The opportunity for these owners is to leverage trust into business.”
Local communities can help
“Building regional support groups to help share best practices is one way local governments and business communities can help small businesses thrive,” Boumgarden said.
“The research is also very clear on the value of educational interventions, so finding ways for universities to offer support for the educational needs of these companies to increase their ‘professionalism’ can really drive the economic growth of these companies, and thus our regions,” he said.
When John Horn started helping companies run war games—simulations to determine the best strategies to take regarding competitors—he was struck by how clients characterized their competitors.
Often, they’d say they couldn’t role-play specific competitors in a workshop because those competitors were “irrational.”
“They truly believed this. They couldn’t wrap their minds around why competitors behaved the way they did,” said Horn, professor of practice in economics at Olin Business School. “It always struck me as odd.”
In his career, he has worked “with really large companies whose competitors were really large companies. And you don’t get to be a really large company by acting irrational.”
“This book was the culmination of about almost 20 years of work on competitive insight,” said Horn, who was a senior expert in the strategy practice of McKinsey & Company, based out of the Washington, DC, office, before joining Olin in 2013. He spent most of his nine years at McKinsey working with clients on competitive strategy, war gaming workshops and corporate and business unit strategy across many industries and geographies.
By using some relatively simple techniques, companies can gain insight into what their competitors are likely to do and be better prepared when it’s time to act, according to the 272-page book to be released April 11, 2023.
“The point of competitive insight is not to explain why a specific action occurred in the past but to get a better understanding of what might happen in the future,” Horn said. “Strategic thinking is inherently a forward-looking effort.”
Readers will learn where to look for competitive insights; learn to anticipate how competitors will react to their company’s moves; and even apply lessons from archaeologists, paleontologists, neonatal intensive care unit nurses and a homicide detective when they can’t ask direct questions.
The retired homicide detective, for instance, shared that all cases are different, so go where the evidence and witness statements lead. The detective saw the job as always asking questions and playing devil’s advocate to test the conclusions of the case officers. What else is missing? What else can you do?
Horn interviewed more than two dozen professionals from the above fields and synthesized their insights into guidance for business strategists. One strong takeaway: “You have to have a diverse team, or you’ll miss something.”
“We’re not going to retroactively solve for the historical ‘why’ but focus on the forward-looking ‘how can we make sense without talking with them?’” Horn says in the book.
“In the real world, you have to rely on second- or thirdhand reporting and piece it together without the inside story.”
Two Olin Business School professors are part of WashU’s new Mindfulness in Science Practice Cluster, chosen for funding from the Incubator for Transdisciplinary Futures: Erik Dane, associate professor of organizational behavior, and Armando Gomes, associate professor of finance.
Dane, one of four faculty leaders of the cluster, teaches about mindfulness in the workplace to Olin MBA and undergraduate students.
“I have a longstanding interest, certainly on the academic side and increasingly an interest in the practice,” he said.
“In a work world besieged by tension, anxiety and conflict, timeless practices associated with mindfulness are perhaps more timely than ever.”
“Mindfulness” refers to a set of mental training practices and skills that can improve health, wellness and psychological functioning in a low-cost, non-pharmacological way.
“The practice of mindfulness can fundamentally change how we experience life,” Gomes said.
His interest in mindfulness started with personal practice. Now he’s attempting to weave that into his academic and research work. “In an economy increasingly competing for our attention, which is a scarce resource we all have, the importance of mindfulness practice is bound to grow as a way to create more balance in our lives.”
For more than 2,500 years, mindfulness practices have formed a central component of Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Mindfulness practices have gained widespread adoption in Western culture, as well, and are becoming a focus of intense transdisciplinary research interest.
“Over the past two decades, research on mindfulness has seen remarkable growth across the psychological and health sciences,” Dane said.
Numerous articles have been published in leading journals, including Nature Reviews Neuroscience, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and The Journal of the American Medical Association.
The Incubator for Transdisciplinary Futures is an Arts & Sciences Signature Initiative at WashU that’s funding several clusters on campus. The clusters are multiyear thematic research and learning collaborations.
The mindfulness cluster started a couple of years ago as an informal working group designed to transform the science of mindfulness through collaborative research. The cluster brings together researchers, scholars and mindfulness practitioners from a range of Arts & Sciences departments and other units, including Olin, the Brown School and the School of Medicine.
The mindfulness cluster will advance Arts & Sciences and university-wide strategic initiatives through activities including:
developing a new interdisciplinary undergraduate minor;
expanding mindfulness programming to support campus and community needs;
hosting public-facing events, including interdisciplinary seminars, lecture series, scientific conferences; and
launching the first-of-its-kind mindfulness instructor certification program to fully incorporate DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) perspectives.
Said Dane, “I’m delighted and honored to be working with scholars and practitioners throughout the WashU community on this important initiative.”