Why HR can’t wait for AI to happen to other people

What is AI?

The Oxford English Dictionary describes AI, or Artificial Intelligence, as: “The theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.

But like humans, all AI is not created equally. AI is replicating millions of years of human evolution and can range from Autonomous Intelligence, where adaptive systems act with no human involvement such as windows that adapt to light levels, to Assisted Intelligence, were hard-wired systems aide human decision making, for example, vehicles that control speed and activate brakes when necessary.

(Source: PWC)

Although AI is considered a useful tool by many people and is already an integral part of business operations across a variety of industries, its evolution raises ethical concerns for some, and continues to grab the headlines:

'Disastrous' lack of diversity in AI industry perpetuates bias, study finds

UK businesses using artificial intelligence to monitor staff activity

Man told he's going to die by doctor on video-link robot

Throughout human evolution, change has been met with fear and skepticism. In a business context, change management is often supported by human resources professionals to ensure that messages are communicated and procedures are introduced to staff in a positive way. So what does AI mean for HR?

Why HR can’t wait

When I started my HR career in the early 2000s, I noted that HR technology was way behind what other departments were already utilising. Whilst they had embraced and embedded automation, process improvements and streamlining, I was still using an excel spreadsheet and was amazed it could do pivot tables! (You know those tables that summarise the data and are a bit easier to read).

This put me on the back foot when talking to colleagues about how such technological advances had impacted them, and also when offering my advice on solutions that could help their departmental challenges. I had to understand their situation and then think about the implications. My influence was purely reactive when it should have been proactive.

With a 4th industrial revolution underway, HR cannot afford to be the last department to implement emerging technologies. We need to practice what we preach; if a department wanted to implement a purely theoretical training program we’d shout that’s not how people learn – and we’re right! The 70-20-10 model puts 70% of knowledge coming from job-related experiences. If we’re not using and implementing technologies from the AI landscape what experience do we have, and what empathy can we show to others that are?

Getting started

Throughout evolution, small steps have lead to great strides. The advantage of technological advancements such as AI is that you can start small and easy. Free tools such as Gender Decoder can highlight unconscious bias in job adverts and Talk to Spot can support employees who have been harassed or discriminated against. These tools demonstrate some of the range of AI technology and importantly how the interaction can be received by employees.