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When most employees within a company think about HR, they think about a) the person that helps to create workplace policies and resolve a workplace issues, b) the internal resource a department head consults with when they need to increase or decrease the size of their department, c) the person who manages their paycheck and benefits, or d) the person who builds training and development programs.
When most people think about artificial intelligence (AI), they think of devices like Alexa or Google Assistant and self-driving cars. If they are of my vintage, they might recall “Rosie the Robot” from the Jetsons.
In today’s modern world, these two seemingly distinct disciplines are converging. AI is rapidly reshaping the landscape of human resources: delivering new capabilities, heightened personalization, and, yes, even some insidious and unintended consequences. In many industries, AI threatens to reduce the number of jobs available. Brookings suggests that up to 25% of current jobs are at risk of elimination due to automation. Fortunately for HR professionals, they are likely to feel a more muted impact. These new technologies will create efficiencies that will enable HR professionals to deliver better outcomes through concentration on higher value exercises, not eliminate the need for those professionals.
We can already see the application of AI with the HR discipline. One of the more common and practical examples of AI in the HR function is chatbots. Chatbots can respond to questions based on keywords entered into the chat; smart-replies and reminders can be prompted in emails and calendar systems based on text within the reply or email; recommendations can be made based on what similar users have intended. All of this is driven by AI. The underlying technology is similar to that which powers modern search engines: decision trees based on data entered from other users, and decision maps based on if the user receives viable results.
"AI is positioned to play a transformative role in HR by enhancing the candidate, employee and administrative experience"
Like most functional areas in corporate America, HR jobs are filled with both routine, labor-intensive tasks as well as more thoughtful decision-making exercises. Routine, labor-intensive work, such as data entry, application processing, and interview scheduling, is typically the first to be disrupted by automation. However, increasingly within the HR function, we are seeing technologies that are disrupting the more sophisticated decision-making tasks. Job websites such as Indeed, Zip Recruiter, and Hcareers (owned and operated by my company Virgil Holdings) have all implemented sophisticated AI to help determine better candidate/employer matching. Application tracking system providers are integrating candidate relationship management technology that will identify candidates already within an employer’s database and automatically deliver marketing campaigns to engage them. There are also solutions that can identify the likelihood that an employee will leave an organization within a certain time period and those that can predict how well a candidate will respond to a specific job advertisement based upon his or her gender.
AI is positioned to play a transformative role in HR by enhancing the candidate, employee, and administrative experience. AI will enable all parties to make more efficient and better-informed decisions. However, there can be a dark side to this technology.
Can AI be dangerous in HR? Absolutely. Sophisticated artificial intelligence applications are developed by people; all people have natural biases. The models used to train the machine-learning algorithms that power AI are based upon data sets which inherently include bias. For instance, when training a model to select the best candidates for a specific role, the data set of current and former employees used to identify which candidates succeed or fail within the organization often includes all the bias that was inherent in the original hiring of that employee pool. Were they all white men? Did 30 percent of them attend Ivy League universities? Did they all come from the same part of the country? The irony is that the bias, which advocates of AI purport claims are removed by using AI to screen and assess candidates, is often inherent in the very systems they have built. In order to avoid this inherent bias, AI within HR needs to be audited and adapted to minimize these built-in biases. Organizations need to be vigilant in their review of all technologies that purport to use AI in their decision making.
Nevertheless, AI doesn’t need to be perceived as dangerous to HR professionals as long as we treat the technology with the reverence it deserves. If we are cavalier in our implementation, AI has the power to perpetuate and even magnify the bias it has been designed to mitigate. AI is a friend to HR. They are highly compatible. If deployed effectively and respectfully, this partnership will drive greater efficiency and better outcomes for the businesses they serve far into the future.