[CJP Insights] Artificial intelligence: HR’s role in the robot takeover

One Prediction about the Future Workforce!

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The moment you mention artificial intelligence, most people immediately think of out-of-control computers such as HAL in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey or The Matrix, in which sentient machines simulate reality in order to subdue the human race.

In the year 1996, when chess master Garry Kasparov was pitted against ‘Deep Blue’, he lost the first game. The machine flummoxed him by making a move with no immediate material advantage; nudging a pawn into a position where it could be easily captured. Kasparov acknowledged that this apparent humanness took him aback “It was a wonderful and extremely human move. I had played a lot of computers but had never experienced anything like this. I could feel — I could smell — a new kind of intelligence across the table.”[i]

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Less than 10 years ago, in the chapter “Why People Still Matter”, (Murnane, 2004) pointed at the difficulties of replicating human perception, asserting that driving in traffic is insusceptible to automation:

“But executing a left turn against oncoming traffic involves so many factors that it is hard to imagine discovering the set of rules that can replicate a driver’s behaviour”.

Six years later, in October 2010, Google announced that it had modified several Toyota Priuses to be fully autonomous (McAfee, 2011).

Well, to set the context, to one extreme, in the post AI era, there are interesting predictions.

John Maynard Keynes’s had once predicted that there would be widespread technological unemployment “due to our discovery of means of economising the use of labour outrunning the pace at which we can find new uses for labour” (Keynes, 1933, p. 3)

Thus, often doomsayers predict a dystopian future in which people are struggling against the rise of machines that, in one way or another, are attempting to either dominate or replace them.

Take a look at this one by John Seely Brown from the Xerox Corporation.

“The corporation of the future will be made up of one employee and a dog

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The employee is there to monitor the machines.

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And the dog is there to make sure s/he doesn’t touch anything.

Such ideas, that send frissons of fear down many people’s spines, it appears, are deeply entrenched.

Deloitte and Oxford University recently came up with a recent study – The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation? It predicted that within 2 decades, 35% of the work that UK employees currently perform would be replaced by machines [ii]

BBC’s Panorama episode titled “Could a Robot Do My Job?” has left many asking if this really is a short-term possibility, rather than something in the distant future.[iii]

Will HR professionals find themselves part of the cull too?

Should these be a reality, will HR professionals find themselves part of the cull too? The views of experts are somewhat mixed.

Research by Deloitte – Technology and people: The great job-creating machine, has recently revealed that technology has created more jobs than it has destroyed in the last 144 years – a testament to humanity’s skills in adapting to survive and thrive.

  • Technology has created more jobs than it has destroyed in the last 144 years
  • It has been saving us from dull, repetitive and dangerous work. Agriculture was the first major sector to experience this change. In 1871 it employed 6.6% of the workforce of UK which stands at 0.2% now, a 95% decline
  • Just 1.1% of the workforce was employed in the caring professions during the 1871 census. By 2011, these professions employed almost a quarter of the UK workforce
  • Technology has boosted employment in knowledge-intensive sectors such as medicine, accounting and professional services
  •  Finally technology has lowered the cost of essentials, raising disposable incomes and creating new demand and jobs. In 1871, there was one hairdresser for every 1,793 English and Welsh citizens; now there is one for every 287.

You might be left asking yourself, what this means for HR professionals?

The rational takeaways are that tech innovations have resulted in fewer humans being deployed as sources of muscle power and being more engaged in jobs involving the nursing and care of others? [iv]

Although many mundane tasks will be automated out of existence, the HR function will continue to play a strategic role in areas such as skills, learning and development, resource planning and reward.

A lot of what AI does is about providing a mechanism to augment decision-making, rather than threaten and replace what humans do. It’ll take a lot of the grunt work out of anything where there are repeating patterns, but the work that humans do will always be necessary – although it’s likely to change over time.”

Deciphering this beast called ‘AI’

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In today’s era, the quantum of data available to us is humungous. What AI does it to decipher the same and generate patterns on the basis of how events overlap, the frequency and consistency with they do so

So essentially AI will most likely be deployed in the HR field to analyse large bodies of data to provide people with additional information and knowledge. The data explosion will enable predictive analytics in organisations.

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Co-clustering utilizes the predictive power of the data to generate co-clusters for improved data analysis

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Case in point- Amelia!!

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Consider virtual agents such as Amelia which was created by IPSoft with the aim of optimising organisations’ business and IT processes. It first revealed in autumn 2014, and is currently on trial at corporates such as Shell Oil, Accenture and NTT Group.

Amelia is an avatar that employs natural language processing techniques to communicate with people. By using specially developed intelligence algorithms, she is also able to analyse intent and even sense emotions to help answer queries and solve problems.

This means that, in a call-centre environment for example, by absorbing a mixture of instruction manuals and guidelines, she can be trained to answer customer emails and answer calls.

So, if Amelia understands the query, she will be able to take all of the necessary steps to solve the problem. If she doesn’t know the answer, she will scan the web or corporate intranet for help.

Only if she is unable to find the right information will she ask a human for assistance, before observing the response and learning from it for next time.

Amelia was Applications include supporting financial operations, looking after technology helpdesks and advising remote workers in the field.

AI in Recruitment

Once a human being identifies a JD with role and qualifications, the same is then entered into a “continuous learning system”. AI-based machines can sift through CVs based on parameters pre-defined by recruitment personnel in order to boost productivity, save time and reduce errors. More importantly, they can be continuously optimized and customized over time.

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Now working on this quantum of unstructured, out-of-context data and getting smarter with each move,

AI is your prefect tool to find the “Gray Squirrel” the one that is an improbably perfect fit. For instance, it can meander through the connections of your employees and thus access a huge talent pool of ‘passive users’.

It can consider the context of an employer helps in identifying the right candidate. This matching of “job to candidate” introduces variables that Boolean searches are unequipped to handle.

AI bots can scout the internet, social media, career portals, knowledge sharing platforms, college and personal websites – where people tend to update information about projects they were involved in. This information is then used for skill validation – you can understand what kind of work an individual has been associated with, what was his/her level of engagement and what potential opportunities the candidate would be most interested in, for the future.

How AI will help you be a better HR leader?

The scope where AI will help HR will be huge

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AI will empower front-line managers

We will see more empowered front-line managers with AI, removing the need for onsite HR folks and transform them into true business partners. AI would help to serve the line-manager as their “HR” partner and provide them access to info that normally remains unavailable behind a firewall.

AI will provide insights

The quality of reports generated by your HR systems is also based on the GIGO principle- Garbage In Garbage Out – bad data in equals bad data out. So in case you have been drawing inappropriate conclusions because the information is inaccurate, consider this.

What if a system could provide insights now, in real-time, after analysing the frequency of conversations across your employees, tone of communications, the connections across your global organizations, challenges, and successes.

AI will predict turnover/attrition

Analysis of turnover/attrition has always been ‘post facto’ .

What if we can predict when engagement decreases at the moment it happens, without ever sending an employee survey. How could you use that information to make decisions on people programs, training, etc.?

AI will surface hidden issues

Do you REALLY know what is happening on the front lines of your company?

Uncover Boss, a TV franchise series created by Stephen Lambert, had CEOs and senior leaders go uncover to the front lines of their organizations, exposed leaders to front-line employees, operations, and challenges.

They were always amazed to learn about their front-line staff members, the great ideas they had, and the challenges that existed which prevented them to perform well for the company.

Now AI helps you get access to the information without ever having to put on a wig or fake moustache.

AI will help leaders identify challenges

AI will learn how your company does business and surface challenges and problems based on a pre-set list of algorithms. This tech will comb through emails, calendars, project management systems, without compromising any privacy.

AI will help you get notified in real-time when there is enough data to sense that an employee’s engagement has decreased or a project is going “off the rails

AI makes leaders better by providing more data

If your front line managers get critical human capital information in real-time without barrier, you’d assume they would be better managers. When FitBit, the fitness tracker brand in vogue, tells you that you have stepped 9,000 steps and your goal is 10,000, you walk to the bus, not drive.

With information, line managers will become better leaders. They will still need the critical people business partners, but they will now be more equipped with data and critical information making that conversation REALLY powerful.

Summing Up

To repeat a key takeaway from this discussion, technology has created more jobs than it has destroyed in the last 144 years – a testament to humanity’s skills in adapting to survive and thrive.

HR needs to continue to embrace the technological changes as new HR technology will only free up more time and resources for you to add even greater value to your organisation

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When working in sync, HR and AI can create an intelligent, cost-effective, and fast people-management system that impact the entire gamut of activities – sourcing, recruiting, managing, and developing employees as they move through the business, payroll and records, and strategy and planning.

Don’t forget that the H in HR stands for ‘human’. It’s about dealing with the vagaries of people, and AI systems will never be able to do that.”

 

 

References

 

[i] http://time.com/3705316/deep-blue-kasparov/

[ii] http://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/downloads/academic/The_Future_of_Employment.pdf

[iii] http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/n3cszk01

[iv] http://www2.deloitte.com/uk/en/pages/finance/articles/technology-and-people.html