By Susan Galer
Chat bots, robots, virtual assistants and other devices powered by business algorithms are rapidly joining the ranks of workers in every industry and profession. But instead of fearing artificial intelligence (AI) and resultant job losses, it’s up to human resource (HR) professionals to cultivate these innovations for the opportunities they bring to people and the company. I tuned in to a recent episode of Changing the Game with HR entitled, Reimagining HR: Will Machines Replace the Human Side of Business?, to hear a group of smart thinkers share their insights on AI with SAP Radio host and moderator Bonnie D. Graham.
Figuring out where AI fits best
Instead of the usual gloom and doom scenario for unemployed workers, Andi Britt, European Talent and Engagement at IBM, framed AI in a much more positive light. “All of us suffer from information overload so why can’t we use technology smartly to do some of the analysis, the filtering of data for us,” he said. “We have really tough decisions to make in our lives every day, so why can’t we use those cognitive applications to narrow down options and make recommendations for us. That way, AI will be a good thing for humanity and not the worst thing to ever happen to humanity.”
Tami Reiss, Product Strategist and creator of the Just Not Sorry app, said HR professionals needed to think consciously about how AI aligns with the organization. “How can we leverage this technology to improve our processes, company, staff retention and self-development,” she said.
Tapping AI’s strengths
Britt outlined the advantages of having chat bots available 24/7 for candidates and new-hires. “What if a potential candidate…could just go online and talk to a virtual recruiting assistant who could automatically read their CV and provide some indications of where there might be a great fit for them within the organization,” he said. “If that candidate joins the company, wouldn’t it be great if rather than having to ask lots of people basic questions about processes…they could talk to a cognitive onboarding assistant in a chat blog via a mobile device or IM that immediately gave them the answers.”
That’s not to say AI completely replaces people. “A candidate is far more able to ascertain if their personality fits the culture by talking to someone…many people in the organization. AI is not that good at empathy, understanding and social interaction,” said Britt.
Bias prevention in recruiting
AI and machine learning have potential to address recruiting bias across the job posting, application and screening processes, but only if there are diverse teams of programmers writing the code behind solutions, and HR continuously audits collected data to ensure diversity.
“When we’re able to get rid of biases, we can more easily find candidates with the right fit and in a shorter amount of time,” said Piyush Chandra, Senior Director for Product Management, Innovation Center Network at SAP Labs. “More people are choosing to work as freelancers and part-time employees, so companies have to assemble a team faster…every time you have a new requirement you need to assemble a new team…we need better technology to help enable this process.”
Practice makes perfect
While some candidates, such as millennials, might view chat bots and other recruiting tools as proof of company innovation status, others might be alienated. Reiss advised companies to gather feedback from candidates and new-hires involved in AI-powered HR processes and iterate the tools. “Maybe we shouldn’t incorporate this piece until the third part of the interview cycle, or maybe this internal message can be made softer or more direct so that people feel like even though they’re interacting with a computer, the computer is a well-representative piece of the company and the sort of company they want to work for,” she said.
Viewing machines as assistants
One of AI’s biggest promises is personalized attention, which depends on how well companies train people for smooth machine to human interaction. “Human beings…know how to build friendships and bridges…so that we can all work together,” said Chandra. “We’ll have to inculcate that same kind of empathy for our machine colleagues when they arrive…we can’t look at a machine just as a computer, but as an assistant, as a person who’s actually there to help guide us through the process.”
Algorithms are fast-becoming a fact of workplace life, and HR can help change the conversation from fear-based to opportunity gains.