How AI Has the Potential to Disrupt HR

Robot with intelligence artificia concept.While recent media and industry buzz would suggest that artificial intelligence, or AI, is something new, the term first emerged in 1956 at a conference at Dartmouth College.

IBM Research has been working with AI since the 1950s and, most recently, made the news with Watson, the first cognitive system which caught the world’s attention when it beat two Jeopardy champions. And, while we tend to think of AI as something futuristic, the truth is there are already multiple examples of how it is impacting our world—and the workplace.

A recent Wall Street Journal article, “How AI Is Transforming the Workplace”, offered some HR-related examples of its applications:

  • An AI service analyzes employee emails to determine how satisfied they may be;
  • AI can be used to identify employees who might be likely to leave the organization; and
  • Based on a job description, AI can collect data from a range of sources to find candidates with the right background to meet job requirements;

AI is “the future of business,” Accenture says. It is technology that “senses, comprehends, acts and learns.” That’s right—learns. As the technology has new experiences, it literally learns from those experiences to improve its performance. In 2015, in fact, as MIT reported, a computer taught itself to play chess.

Not surprisingly, there are numerous implications for HR.. For instance, AI may both impact how HR professionals do their work, by assuming responsibility for some of the tasks currently performed by people, and impact the types of jobs that real people, rather than machines, will perform.

Late last year, legal editor and host of an award-wining podcast series, David Weisenfeld presented a podcast along with longtime Littler employment attorney Garry Mathiason, , who has spearheaded a first-of-its-kind practice area—the Robotics Practice Group. Mathiason shared examples of attorney robots, sales clerk robots, robots that make pizza and robots in hospitals that dispense medicine.

It can all be a bit frightening. And, in fact, such well-versed technology experts as Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and Bill Gates have publicly expressed their concerns about the potential dystopian implications of AI.

There may, though, be less for employees to fear and HR professionals to fret about in terms of the potential displacement of people by robots. In fact, as Weisenfeld pointed out in the podcast, a Washington Post story noted that the number of bank tellers has actually risen since 1990, despite the explosion of ATMs. Why? Because their work is changing.

The good news for employees and the businesses they work for may very well be that because their time can be freed from rote tasks that AI can address, they can be focused on more meaningful, intellectually challenging work.

So, for instance, while Mathiason points out during the podcast that robots are actually serving in the role of interviewing job candidates for some jobs—and they can read candidates’ non-verbal cues—this technology means that HR professionals’ time can be freed up to attend to more strategic tasks.

While your initial reaction might be “oh no; will a robot take over my job someday?,” think about the situation from a more strategic vantage point. What sorts of more higher value contributions might you be able to contribute to your organization if your time was freed up to allow for that strategic focus?



, ,