The light and dark of AI

Human resources has major role to play as artificial intelligence disrupts the workplace
By Marcel Vander Wier
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 11/27/2017
A subject expert painted two contrasting pictures of what everyday AI could eventually look like in human’s lives — one detailing a more productive and creative human race, the other outlining a dark and foreboding future full of corruption, at a recent SCNetwork event in Toronto. Credit: PHOTOCREO Michal Bednarek (Shutterstock)

The arrival of artificial intelligence (AI) is turning the traditional workplace upside down, according to Cindy Gordon, author and CEO of SalesChoice, a predictive analytics software firm in Toronto.

“(AI is) the most unprecedented transformational change that we’ve seen in our lifetime,” she said. “HR leaders have a responsibility to become educated very, very rapidly.”

Speaking at a recent SCNetwork event in Toronto, Gordon painted two contrasting pictures of what everyday AI could eventually look like in human’s lives — one detailing a more productive and creative human race, the other outlining a dark and foreboding future full of corruption.

“There’s a lot of goodness here. I’m building tech that is good,” she said. “But I also can see how these things can manifest in change, depending on the circumstances or the goals of individuals.”

The time is now for humans — and HR leaders in particular — to direct AI’s advancement, said Gordon.

“A lot of this is going to be on humans to set the right policies at the right levels within government and organizations... Ethics is going to become probably one of the most critical core competencies for decision-making.”

Here to stay

The AI market has swelled considerably, totalling more than $20 billion in North America in the last two years, she said.

AI’s greatest value comes through an understanding of how humans learn, problem-solve, perceive and think, said Gordon.

As such, machine learning — the prediction of outcomes using AI methodology — is the most popular form of AI, ahead of smart robotics, voice-activated technology and autonomous vehicles.

“The whole objective of artificial intelligence is to really mimic human’s capabilities,” she said. “A lot of the focus now is taking business processes and trying to simplify them, trying to inform and basically remove work that humans are doing.”

“AI is not going away. This transformation is the most significant disruptor in the history of mankind. We all need to wake up here… It’s going to be a very different world.”

AI remains in its infancy, however, with less than 10 per cent of global firms deploying it on a full-scale basis, according to Gordon. Telecommunication and financial service companies have been early adopters while education, health care and tourism lag behind.

Six characteristics unite the early adopters of AI, she said.

Typically, they are larger businesses, digitally mature, accept AI as a core activity, focus on growth over savings, adopt multiple technologies, and have C-level support.

Changing workplaces

At present, four of five companies are exploring AI for a competitive advantage, said Gordon.

Prior to embarking on an organizational AI journey, critical steps include understanding the problem that needs to be solved, alongside the presence of mature, healthy data, she said.

“You can’t get to the next leap in AI without quality data.”

And if Canada intends to remain a global leader in innovation, technology needs to become a core value in the workplace, said Gordon.

“We really do need to focus on the core value attributes in a more significant way,” she said. “Technology does need to become a competency for every single employee, at all levels, to advance in the new society that’s rapidly unfolding.”

Scenario planning, trust in decision-making, and ethics are crucial as the modern workplace rapidly takes on a new look, said Gordon.

“If there is a group that has to speak loud, it’s got to be the HR community, because you’re that human heart,” she said. “The most important point in my mind is that the board of directors (is) asleep at the wheel on AI.”

“We need to educate our boards, who are responsible for governance. We need to educate our C-suite.”

Case study: Watson

As the world continues to be transformed by mobile technology, businesses are also being redesigned, said Puvi Sinnathamby, Canadian mobile leader at IBM in Toronto.

“Because of the great experiences you’re having in your other solutions, that same expectation is starting to come into the workforce where your employees are expecting similar interactions with their solutions — talent management and recruiting solutions,” he said at the SCNetwork event.

Employee demands are increasing and disruption continues in the marketplace as new solutions continue to appear, said Sinnathamby.

At IBM, enabling workers to do their jobs better is at the crux of its AI work, and that begins with creating appropriate experiences.

“If you’re not creating an experience that is resonating with your employees, they won’t use it. You won’t get that adoption,” he said. “For us, cognitive technologies or AI is really about augmenting the work experience… We’re not talking about replacing, we’re talking about augmenting.”

In partnership with Apple, IBM is changing the way people work through apps that connect users to big data, analytics and Watson-powered cognitive capabilities via their IOS devices, said Sinnathamby.

Watson Recruitment Advisor, for example, helps HR practitioners prioritize candidates by digitally sifting through hundreds of resumés and identifying top talent, he said.

“You only really spend a few seconds looking at each resumé. You need to make a judgment call very quickly... This is where a cognitive system could really add value. It can digest all of this data for you.”

By having this tedious work taken care of, recruiters are then able to conduct the rest of the recruitment process more efficiently with additional time for interviews and social listening, said Sinnathamby.

While getting started in AI may seem daunting, an understanding of employees’ journeys — along with realizing friction or pain points — is a good beginning, he said.

Follow that up by problem-solving and brainstorming small solutions that can be delivered through digital or mobile needs.

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