Management consultants are enraged by generic comment blackout.
In a blow to the advance of technology and data science, HBS has pulled back the machine learning pilot it was conducting on Zoom in collaboration with the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. The move serves as a triumph for students, who had been horrified to learn that their unoriginal comments were being eliminated from class participation, forcing the agony of original thinking onto some of them.
The machine learning program was aimed at facilitating the quality of class participation on Zoom. Using a machine learning algorithm, the program identified unoriginal commentary provided by students when called upon and muted it for the rest of the class.
The impact on class participation in the pilot was dramatic. Unmuted commentary dropped by 27%*. The Entrepreneurship classes were especially hit, with only 4% of the students’ comments actually deemed to be original insights by the program*.
“We never expected anything like this,” said Mitch Weiss who teaches Public Entrepreneurship at HBS. “We always knew that our students actually know very little about actual entrepreneurship but seeing the hard numbers really put it into perspective.”
Amongst students, the program especially hit management consultants. “The machine learning algorithm picked up that consultants often begin their comments by saying ‘As an expert in’ or ‘Having done a case in’ and then go on to make textbook ‘big picture’ comments,” said Tek Brooh, RC MS/MBA who helped design the program. “Consequently, it proceeded to singularly mute consultants’ comments.”
When students found this out, they were understandably enraged. “This move could jeopardize the Category I that I was aiming for,” said Van Abhi Baker. Others were concerned that they might need to actually start reading cases.
While the administration has retracted the use of the pilot, they remain hopeful about the application in the long term. “The first pilot was a good way for us to identify main challenges,” said Tek. “We will rework our algorithms to be more forgiving and try piloting on Houseparty next.”
*The figures are totally real.