For the last five years or so, human resource executives have been gradually coming to terms with the rapid growth of artificial intelligence for critical tasks like evaluating job applicants or developing chatbots to answer basic employee questions.
But HR strategists experimenting with the much-hyped ChatGPT—the new AI search tool that can answer complex questions with instant, easily understandable responses—say people managers have no idea what’s about to hit them. And they need to get ready quickly.
How is ChatGPT different from the AI-powered tools HR has started growing accustomed to using? For one, it’s been trained with an extensive data set and has the ability to produce detailed, human-like responses—influenced by its recall of the entire conversation—to both simple and complex requests.
Todd Mitchem, CEO of AMP Learning and Development who lectures extensively on the intersection between HR and technology, says he has spent hours obsessively researching ChatGPT since the open-source tool went live in November. Using ChatGPT through about 15 minutes of prompts, Mitchem says, he was able to retool a leadership course that otherwise might have taken his team hours, or even days, to do.
“This is like if the Industrial Revolution slammed into the dot-com era and made a baby traveling at a million miles an hour,” Mitchem enthuses. “It’s bigger than anything humanity has ever dealt with, hands down. It’s going to disrupt. It’s going to turn the work world on its head.”
While Mitchem’s excitement may sound over the top, that sense of revolutionary change is shared by other early adopters from the HR tech world who’ve been exploring ChatGPT while its San Francisco-based designer, OpenAI, has allowed free use during its initial testing phase.
“This takes it to the next level,” says Tim Sackett, president of HRU Technical Resources, referring to the rapid advance of AI tools in the world of HR. In a recent, widely read essay, Sackett also compared ChatGPT to the Industrial Revolution and predicted that the new platform will “transform work as we know it.” That’s because ChatGPT’s generative ability to give conversational answers and produce instant essays has the potential to free up HR staff from mundane writing or data tasks that now consume much of their workday.
“One thing [HR leaders] have told me over 20 years is, ‘If we can just be more strategic … If we could just do the real work we were put on this earth to do … ’ and they just get caught up in all this tactical, day-to-day minutia they can never get rid of,” Sackett explains, adding: “Now, the robots will do that work.”
Indeed, there’s no major HR function that early ChatGPT adopters like Mitchem and Sackett don’t expect to be radically affected by the new technology. For example:
- Recruiting: Sackett says the speed at which the tool can read and evaluate content will help talent acquisition teams more quickly and fairly evaluate an entire batch of job applicants—and thus identify top candidates whom human evaluators might have missed because of bias or other factors.
- Compensation and pay equity: ChatGPT is going to be leveraged for its predictive power when it comes to the impact of pay practices on the business. Explains Sackett: “The moment someone puts in a pay increase or makes an offer, this will say, ‘This is going to cause pay equity issues down the road.’ ”
- Employee wellness and safety: Sackett envisions a scenario in which ChatGPT could assess a worker seeking assistance for personal problems, and discern from that employee’s emails or online searches whether they actually pose an even greater risk of harm to themselves or to others.
In its most basic application for HR, ChatGPT can instantly create job descriptions, or write up company policies that can easily be updated and disseminated in real-time, as laws or rules related to those policies change. Indeed, the tool’s ability to perform these simple tasks has already sparked speculation that HR departments will face pressure to downsize, as robots take over work that no longer requires humans.
But strategists like Sackett and Mitchem insist the long-term reality will prove more complicated. Just like with earlier disruptive technologies—such as the internet—the new technology may create at least as many jobs as are abolished, and possibly more.
“There will be a head of AI prompting—that will be a title,” Mitchem predicts. “I think you’re also going to see jobs titles like artificial intelligence ethicist—an ethics professional who’s constantly asking the question, ‘Should we, and how?’ AI is going to fall in front of every title.”
As ChatGPT becomes baked into companies’ tech strategies, there will be new focuses on: AI employee experience, AI compliance, AI talent development, AI career acquisition, he says. “I think you’re going to have some people who are specialists in how to interact with this technology in a whole new way,” Mitchem says.
And they will certainly be in demand.
For example, the rapid growth of ChatGPT—which gained 1 million new users in its first week, a record for a search tool—has created a scenario in which applicants are using the tool to try to craft the perfect application—in response to job descriptions that were also written with the new technology. Sackett suggests that companies will need to develop more live testing and assessments to glean the cognitive skills of applicants, a task that would, of course, require human employees.
Sackett also says ChatGPT essentially demands a new kind of work skill that he calls “narration”—that is, the ability both to ask the right questions of the tool and then refine the answer to best suit a company’s specific needs. “This whole concept of narration is a skill set we haven’t thought of,” he says.
The most immediate task for HR professionals, however, according to Mitchem, is to quickly learn what ChatGPT can do for people management—and what it can’t—to get ahead of their C-suite higher-ups who will inevitably start making demands as the technology continues to gain widespread publicity.
“If you’re an HR leader and you have a team,” he says, “you should be designating a separate team of people whose job it is to immerse themselves in understanding these tools—because every day someone is building a new AI tool based on this technology.”