Don’t Fight the Robots, Embrace Them

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May 10, 2018

We’ve all heard doom and gloom reports of the coming AI revolution. Some forecasters predict a very grim future indeed: Robots take over and humans find themselves unceremoniously kicked to the curb, suddenly unable to provide for themselves and their families. According to these doomsdayers, what happens next is anyone’s guess, and predictions run the gamut from jobless, rootless humans fighting for resources on a planet-wide scale (think Lord of the Flies) to the robots annihilating us all, Skynet-style.

Enough of the 2017 exaggeration. There are alternate visions for the way AI will impact human development. Many predict an era in which humans flourish, able to achieve more with less labor. In the workplace, embracing AI can make for a more equitable, productive, and healthy work culture. As the founder of The Emotionally Intelligent Recruiter education platform, executive coach, and podcast host, my goal is to help people enhance their EI in order to thrive in the AI age. I place myself firmly in the camp which sees the positive possibilities of AI — and I think you should, too. Here are three reasons why.

1. Increased productivity

People leaders, headhunters, recruiters and sourcers today are spending an average of 3.3 hours a day on email alone – or more. Meetings and other tasks not relevant to the job function eat into the workday. Artificial intelligence can assist workers by helping filter through the deluge of electronic communication and identifying what material may be relevant for an employee at any given time — say, a prospective client call in which the director or associate must quickly familiarize herself with a prospect’s needs.

Less time spent performing the mundane tasks of managing email, coordinating workplace schedules, planning for meetings, responding to candidates, etc. means more time freed up to concentrate on knowledge-based tasks. It also means freedom to think outside of the box, collaborate, and find creative solutions to problems both in and out of the office.

At ERE in San Diego last month, TalentSumo, powered by IBM Watson AI, caught my eye. TalentSumo assists in filling hard-to-fill and niche positions by providing bias-free resume screening and candidate sourcing. TalentSumo also engages specialty and diversity recruiters so that organizations have the chance to build diverse teams. It’s an example of AI enhancing the workplace’s operations by removing tedium and honing in on talent.

2. More efficient recruitment and HR

With AI doing the heavy lifting of sorting through candidates’ applications, a recruiter will be able to focus on human-centered tasks of the job. These include developing emotional intelligence in order to effectively communicate with candidates and employers, as well as gaining deep knowledge of an employer’s brand. The recruiter is then able to paint a clear picture for the candidate; the way is paved for authentic, two-way dialogue.

AI is transforming the human resources sphere, too. One example: chatbots. More and more companies are turning to chatbots as a way to answer employees’ HR questions in real time. “How many days of PTO do I have left? Does the company health plan cover vision insurance?” Chatbots simulate conversations with an HR rep; employees get their questions answered and have more time to devote to their jobs.

AI can also make for a more equitable workplace by giving employees a safe space to report instances of sexual harassment and discrimination. Employees who feel safe perform better. By rooting out workplace bullies, AI can help level the playing field and bring the talents of every team member to the fore.

I was pleased to learn about HiredScore at ERE. HiredScore uses algorithms to analyze candidates’ recruiting data and public data in order to best understand the candidate. HiredScore automatically creates algorithms geared toward the individual company, which then delivers the highest-quality candidate to the company’s recruiters. This application of big data is immensely helpful to human resources as it streamlines information for the human resources information system (HRIS); HR managers are able to do their jobs more meaningfully and effectively.

3. Real-time feedback on job performance

Companies are moving further away from yearly performance reviews, which are largely inefficient, in addition to being subject to a manager’s particular biases. Artificial intelligence can make on-the-job feedback more effective by performing it in real time through the ongoing collection of data.

As an example, let’s look at a vital tool of the modern business: video conferencing. In a video conference, as in any meeting, the goal is dynamic collaboration – -creating a space in which participants freely share ideas and opinions to arrive at authentic solutions. Is this collaboration happening? Or did one participant grandstand throughout the duration of the meeting, while another quietly nodded his head the whole time?

One new startup, co-founded by Beth Porter and legendary MIT professor Alex Pentland, has a machine learning platform that uses video conferencing to give participants real-time feedback on their participation and collaboration. We all know the old adage: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” Analyzing video conferencing is one way AI can interpret human interactions to improve the participation and quality of meetings. as well as help identify how candidates in a video interview might fit or improve an existing culture.

Artificial intelligence is on the verge of penetrating the way we work, across every industry. It’s been dubbed the “new electricity,” i.e., the tool which will transform the way humans do absolutely everything. Fighting AI makes as much sense as fighting the light bulb.

So don’t fight it. Plan to build an AI stack into your organization. Start gently and proceed forward with purpose, and be willing to learn continually as you go. Then remember your superpower: being human. How can you develop? How does the tech fit in with your culture intelligence?

One thing machines cannot do: replace human connection and direction. As industries further adopt AI, it’s more important than ever for workers to develop their emotional intelligence. In a rapidly changing workforce, the “soft skills” of listening to employees, motivating team members, interpreting results that relate to your company culture and values, and facilitating collaboration will make an individual irreplaceable.

Artificial intelligence is here and swiftly changing the workplace as we know it; that’s simply the reality. Moving from fearing to embracing AI need not be a simple matter of trading an apocalyptic vision for rose-colored glasses. There is a middle space that recognizes the challenges AI poses for employees, as well how employees may work with AI for the benefits of both corporations and humankind. It is a grounded, hopeful space. I suggest we camp there and work for the best of what’s possible.

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