What is meant by artificial intelligence and how will this change HR in the years ahead? A report into the situation now, with a view to the future.
Everyone’s talking about it: Artificial intelligence. And everyone understands something else by it. Essentially, this is something which is immaterial, as the human brain is definitely not in the position to grasp the possibilities of artificial intelligence in its entirety. As such, everyone has the right to draw his own personal interpretation of artificial intelligence, often abbreviated to AI. Presumably, it is easier to define what artificial intelligence isn’t or cannot be, than to list everything which is subsumed unto the term AI.
Seen from a very great altitude, AI is about creating an intelligence which is similar to that of people or comes close. But even the term intelligence itself is not clearly defined, so artificial intelligence cannot be either. But all (or most) of the definitions have one thing in common – the ability to learn. Often, people talk about deep learning or machine learning. By this, it is meant that the findings from brain research are used to stimulate artificial, neural networks. Essentially, this approach is not new at all, and it was pursued as early as in the 80’s. But, back then, the very restricted performance and speed of the computers made it impossible to achieve usable results. Today, computing capacity is virtually unlimited and algorithms take off. Self-learning algorithms are no longer programmed from A to Z, but they virtually learn from practice, just like children learn something. This comes very close to how our brain works.
As early as the 1950’s, mathematics professor John McCarthy defined artificial intelligence as the 'creation of a machine that behaves in such a way, that one would call it intelligent if a person would behave in this way’. The computer scientist Jerry Kaplan summarises artificial intelligence or general intelligence as the ability to quickly come up with suitable generalisations on the basis of limited data.
Specific examples of application scenarios where artificial intelligence is used can be found in all area of life: self-driving cars, diagnosis and the treatment of diseases, voice and photo recognition, and much more besides. As the systems are in the position to process incredibly large amounts of data in almost real time, patterns and connections can be identified. For example, no doctor could recognise such things, even if he has been known as an expert in his field for decades.
Many of us have may have communicated with a computer without even knowing it. For example, chatbots from all kind of service providers with whom we talk to in order to discuss a technical problem or something which is unclear in an account. These are so clever, that we are often not able to tell if we are dealing with a person or a machine.
Artificial intelligence is making its way into the field of HR and this is not just leading to changes in certain HR process, but in part, it is demanding a whole new skill set from HR staff. To begin with, the processes affected by artificial intelligence lie in the field of recruiting and are found at different levels.
Starting with the sourcing of possible candidates, AI can help to track them down, actively make contact with them and gauge their interest. All of this happens before the human recruiter even comes into play. Following this, an intelligent chatbot takes over much of the communication with the candidate and even arranges interviews. The story goes on with the assessment of candidates and the comparison of candidates. Artificial intelligence can gather, compare and summarize countless information about the candidates in realtime, and it can also spot patterns and draw conclusions. Perhaps the algorithm establishes that to date, candidates with certain characteristics have never lasted longer than two year in a company?
With such tools, HR does not just save a lot of time, it also makes qualitatively better decisions. This is because in a reasonable amount of time, no person can collect so much data and evaluate it like a computer. At the same time, human prejudices are reduced. In the field of HR, the topic of 'beyond bias' is becoming ever more important. Especially in the field of recruiting, we are influenced by prejudices or stereotypes without us even knowing. A real human 'bug' which cannot be found among the clever algorithms. For example, a job advertisement can be automatically checked for terminology which primarily, only addresses women (or men) and the user can be offered suggestions for alternative wording. In certain occupational fields, e.g. temporary workers or seasonal workers, we can assume that in the not too distant future, it will be the computer that decides whether to hire or not, and not a person.
If we leave the recruiting and look to the field of HR administration: in the communication between staff and the HR department, in the processing of queries and requests. It is obvious that intelligent chatbots are on the rise in this area. The HR departments are also staffed virtually – Welcome to colleague computer!
Artificial intelligence does not stop at staff development. Thanks to artificial intelligence, the process of learning, which was heavily planned in the past, is given a whole new dynamic. Instead of attending a course in order to discover how a new production machine works, the member of staff can put on some augmented reality glasses and is guided through the process of working on the new machine. But it does not end here. Imagine we are in the process of performing a task and without having to look, we are offered an App or an e-Learning tool. And all this happens because a program has established that we clearly have some gaps in our knowledge which prevent us from carrying out our task optimally. This are nothing more than small virtual helpers which think for us and make everyday life easier. Alternatively, the program could establish that we will have to confront new tasks which we are not yet optimally prepared for with our existing skills set. Tasks which at best, we do not yet know about, but which are already emerging on the data horizon.
Last but not least, artificial intelligence also finds a wide range of applications in the field of people analytics. Gone are the days when the HR department administers countless reports and billows a flood of ad-hoc reports and Excel analyses through the HR department. No human HR controller can compete with big data and intelligent algorithms. If companies bought business intelligence solutions a few years ago and were happy, finally, to be able to perform data mining, then the conclusions derived from it were heavily dependent on the controller’s creativity. For those who look for gold in the wrong place can dig as deep as they want – they will not find anything. Intelligent algorithms can dig anywhere at the same time and bring hidden things to light in a fraction of the time.
And what are the consequences of these changes for HR staff? Is it not enough just to procure intelligent software? HR has to acquire new skills in this regard and completely new HR roles will emerge. For example, at Airbnb, there is a Head of Employee Experience, while other companies have a Head of Conversational Design. Based on the concept of customer experience, this is about putting the focus on employees, with all their activities and actions, and creating a world in which all information/services that are desired or necessary are available. This is done in a continuously positive user experience where, in particular, chatbots and other intelligent helpers are used.
Regardless of what the new roles are called, HR is about building expertise in the field of artificial intelligence. On the one hand, this is relevant in order to holistically tackle digital transformation in cooperation with IT and other business units and not to understand HR as a silo. But it is not only that. HR needs to understand the technology in order to make the most of it and not to be dominated by it. Artificial intelligence will definitely not replace the HR department, but it will massively change the processes and activities of HR staff.
We are conscious or unconscious users of artificial intelligence, not only in everyday working life but also in our private lives. Be it in the virtual dating App, which suggests the perfect partner or in the field of medicine, where algorithms are used to calculate the remaining lifetime of patients, we are on the starting blocks.
The topic of human enhancement is also being discussed more and more. ‘Upgrading’ the lives of sick people with the help of technology or so-called ‘mind uploading’, which gained notoriety through the series ‘Black Mirror’ and one starts to think of science fiction. Thought-reading computer systems are already a reality and they have been successfully tested on test persons at Purdue University in Indiana.
But every innovation and every scientific breakthrough has had its dark side since time immemorial, and sometimes, even a destructive potential. Artificial intelligence is associated with many human fears. Robots which are far superior to humans and which may even determine us. 100% transparency and permanent monitoring in the sense of "Big brother is watching you" or the formation of a human elite who have the access and the financial resources to virtually upgrade their mental and physical abilities.
There is no going back, and presumably our limited human mind cannot imagine the possibilities that artificial intelligence will actually offer. In the world of technologically unlimited possibilities, however, humans still remain human and it is clear that the search for meaningful activity will increase. We will try to translate the artificial world into a human world, with a heart and empathy. And that is exactly what the role of HR will do when it comes to awakening the ‘human’ in organisations and people and strengthening the non-linearity of human thought.
The outwardly visible part of Mya is a chatbot which is designed to recognise written language and interact with the human user. Among other things, the speech recognition module clearly consists of a deep learning-based semantic sentence analysis tool which extracts meaningful information from the candidates’ answers. Mya does not just communicate with applicants but also provides support in the screening of candidates on the telephone and creates meaningful candidate profiles and shortlists of candidates. www.hiremya.com
Founded in 2016, the Swiss company Lionstep enables access to 300 million anonymised candidate profiles from all over the world. According to the Lionstep website, the search for the right candidate is as easy as ordering a pizza. After stating and describing the desired profile, a high-performance algorithm compares it with a million talents and creates a matching list for the recruiter. If the recruiter wants to get in touch with a person, a real Lionstep agent makes contact and shortly after, the recruiter gets a reply from the possible candidate. www.lionstep.com
Artificial intelligence in HR does not stop at the ‘borders’ of companies. HR Cosmos, launched by HR Campus and Starmind, works across company boundaries. Thanks to self-learning algorithms based on the principles of brain and neural network research, HR employees are networked across company boundaries and an HR question is automatically forwarded to the most knowledgeable person in the network. www.hr-cosmos.ch
SAP also offers an intelligent digital assistant. Similar to Siri or Alexa, SAP CoPilot is voice-controlled and supports users in their use of SAP systems. Based on machine learning, CoPilot instantly recognises the application and context in which a user is working and thinks virtually by raising awareness or suggesting things.
Published: 13. April 2018