“We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was. Better...stronger... faster.” And, he was, and so were my friends and I as we ran in slow motion down the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, in the summer of 1973. We were bionically enhanced secret agents in the era of Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock. Transhumanism was a cult-like philosophical movement focused on human longevity and enhancement. America On Line (AOL) was another dozen years away, and the World Wide Web was a decade beyond that. The closest thing to the cloud was an IBM mainframe computer hard wired or connected by phone lines to dumb terminals (picture Chromebooks with no capabilities on their own). The software was measured in bytes and kilobytes, not gigabytes, and streaming was what water did as it flowed down a mountainside. Human resources had evolved from basic labor mediation to legal compliance, recruiting, hiring, training, and assessing workers. Employees had lifetime jobs with a single company. The augmented human created by author Martin Caidin was just a story. That human capability could be leveled or enhanced so dramatically was just a dream. The disruption it is bringing to the 21st Century workforce was unimaginable.
"We need to adopt new models, methods, and tools to improve the human experience of our team members. We need human resources to evolve to something new, something more. Now is the time for Transhuman Resources."
Almost fifty years later, like many science fiction predictions, these visions are becoming a reality. Artificial organs, functional prosthetic limbs, enhanced vision and hearing, mechanical exoskeletons, digital assistants, natural language voice translators, and a myriad of other technological advancements are granting us capabilities we could only read about in stories. In addition to human augmentation, we are also in a generation of robotic human assistants and robotic replacements. While we have variants of these three components in our organizational resources, considering non-humans and enhanced humans as active participants making up a part of the corporate and industrial ‘teams’ is new. We need to consider the implications for how changes to previous talent models will impact transactional functions of human resources and overarching resource management.
In 1954, General Motors introduced the world to Unimate, the world’s first industrial robot. Its function was to transport heavy die castings and weld them to auto bodies; a task deemed too dangerous for human auto workers to perform. Unimate had no intelligence of its own and was limited to a single set of functions. Robots have become more sophisticated and commonplace today and accomplish everything from advanced manufacturing to software task automation to washing our dishes. These robots are not the killing machines often depicted in movies. They are advanced tools. Artificial intelligence, intelligent sensors, connectivity to global data, and machine learning are enabling these ‘tools’ to be able to think, analyze, and produce products on their own. These products include consumer goods, machinery, automated data analysis, news reporting, story writing, music creation, corporate strategy, and computer programming (yes, they are coding themselves). They are no longer tools used occasionally as a part of an assembly process. They are integrated into project teams and play vital roles in all areas of business. In some cases, they are making decisions for humans at a rate of speed and level of quality better than their human counterparts. Human resources must adapt and address the emotional impact on human team members as they adopt cobots in their teams.
Humans are also undergoing radical changes. Roles dominated by a select few blessed with great memories, social skills, multilingual abilities, and great organizational capabilities will now be accessible by the masses. SummarizeBot reads, organizes, and summarizes emails and social documents, reducing the time for keeping current. Microsoft Translator translates real-time conversations. Google Duplex provides automated scheduling and responses to requests. AlterEgo provides a conversational AI in your head so you can ask questions and get answers privately. There is even a device that adds an extra mechanical thumb to the human hand. We are just scratching the surface of how we can enhance human abilities. The questions these bring to mind are, how do they affect the hiring and recruiting process? Are implants that add IT risk protected from discrimination? How do we manage teams of enhanced and non-enhanced humans?
The past decade has been all about how HR can adopt new technologies, including AI, to manage talent recruiting, onboarding, training, development, and the geographically dispersed workforce. Cloud-based solutions like Fuel50 have made it possible to map competencies and career path journeys for every role within an organization. AI recruiting platforms are helping match candidates to companies and positions. They are not perfect, however, and are subject to unintended bias if configured poorly. AI-assisted training like OpenSesame is accelerating employee development by matching competency gaps to applicable learning. Companies are implementing these solutions to address human development. Unfortunately, they do not address the implications of robotic team members, human augmentation, and the disruption to our understanding of diversity and inclusion as it relates to the new employee experience.
AI and machines are capable of many industrial and corporate tasks, provided there is an algorithm or pattern on which to model its behavior. If you have ever tried to use any of the personal assistant technologies, they will often misinterpret the spelling of ambiguous words like buy/by/ bye. Abstraction is a human characteristic. Creativity is a human characteristic. Empathy is a human characteristic. As we enter the 2020 workplace, there will be an opportunity to help all of us build upon our human strengths. We need robotic power tools and artificial intelligence to free us up for human activities. We need the new abilities human augmentation provides to adapt to the changes occurring in our daily lives inside and out of work. We need to adopt new models, methods, and tools to improve the human experience of our team members. We need human resources to evolve to something new, something more. Now is the time for Transhuman Resources.