By Jane Sunley business author and founder, Purple Cubed
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has existed conceptually since the 1950s, when the brilliant computer scientist Alan Turin predicted that by the year 2000, computers would be able to pass as humans in an online conversation. However, it’s only relatively recently become relevant and reliable enough to be adopted seriously by businesses.
Before people start panicking that robots are taking their jobs, over-taking their intelligence or threatening to bring about end of the world, it’s important to know what we’re dealing with here. In simple terms, there are three categories of AI:
- Narrow Artificial Intelligence: this is the stuff we’re seeing already; the technology behind Google rankings, Apple’s Siri, advertising pop ups. In short, programmable systems taught to successfully carry out processes that could be performed by humans. Hilton’s Connie the Concierge is a good example of this type of AI. Some call centres are going one step further and using AI to analyse caller mood, providing instantaneous prompts to customer service operatives so that they can modify their approaches accordingly.
- Artificial General Intelligence (AGI): refers to a machine that is able to successfully perform any intellectual task that a human being can. Before running screaming to the hills, it’s important to know that one of the world’s fastest super-computers took 40 minutes to simulate one second of neural activity, so many experts predict that we’re at least 20 years away from credible AGI. Check out this Japanese hotel operated entirely by robots – a gimmicky and, in my view, frankly creepy, experience.
- Artificial Super Intelligence (ASI): is intelligence that surpasses human intellect and behaviour; the stuff of Sci-Fi films and Elon Musk’s assertion that AI is humanity’s “biggest existential threat”, which, he says in an on-going verbal debate with ASI advocate Mark Zuckerberg, compares to “summoning the demon.” Due to the ever-increasing rapidity of tech advancements, there’s no way to predict when this will happen, although many experts believe ASI won’t become a reality until at least 2040. So, for now at least, you can relax.
So how is AI already transforming HR and workforce management? It’s less about robots replacing humans and more to do with streamlining and supporting processes such as recruitment, assessment, on-boarding, learning, development and providing analytics / predictive data insights over a broad range of metrics and comparisons. Imagine you could compare, for example, productivity v absence levels v employee net promoter scores (yes, you already can).
Many organisations are now using chat bots as part of their recruitment processes. If you think about it, sourcing, screening, information capture and recording, candidate ranking, answering FAQs and scheduling interviews could all be handled by AI. For example, the US army’s Sergeant Star has already answered 11 million questions from potential recruits – the manpower equivalent of 55 army recruiters. Whilst the thought of missing an opportunity of human engagement with candidates might currently leave you cold, this is about enhancement, not replacement. It should therefore be carefully managed so that people are aware that AI makes the ‘admin’ part of the recruitment journey slicker, more time efficient, fairer and more convenient for them. Aside from the obvious overhead savings for the employer, it is possible to enhance inclusivity and diversity as it presents a zero-bias situation. And, perhaps sadly, in larger organisations at least, it has already become the norm as unlike most humans, chat bots literally have all the answers. Imagine the opportunities here for customer helplines and the like. In fact, Gartner are predicting that by the end of 2020, the average person will have had more conversations with chat bots than with his or her spouse!
Purple Cubed’s own 2018 research showed that business leaders are shying away from change. However, change is rapid and, as the cliché goes, has become the only constant. By moving away from the mentality whereby the people function is seen as a transactional support function to one that is removing the roadblocks and getting to grips with the rapid advancements in technology, driving business transformation, HR is ideally placed to lead some very exciting advancements indeed…