HR’s ‘super opportunity’ to reinvent how it uses AI

Once the crisis subsides, HR leaders have a chance to redefine how they rely on AI, experts say.
By: | August 6, 2020 • 3 min read
(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

This is the third in a series on AI transforming the workplace. 

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As the founding partner of Future Workplace, an HR advisory and research firm, Jeanne Meister spends much of her professional time thinking about artificial intelligence, HR and how the future will shake out. Currently, that’s a future that is being rapidly reshaped by the pandemic. As more employers look to AI as part of the solution to the myriad challenges that will arise post-pandemic, Meister, while a strong proponent of AI-based solutions, says organizations must safeguard data, taking steps to avoid potential bias and a lack of transparency.

“Employee awareness about privacy and how much they are willing to blithely share is intensifying,” she says, “and must be seriously factored into any post-pandemic AI use.”

Jeanne Meister

In 2019, for example, Future Workplace and Oracle co-conducted the largest survey of its kind probing the attitudes of employees toward AI in the workplace. The research, AI@Work, included a survey of 8,370 HR leaders, hiring managers and workers across 10 countries, and found that 71% were “at least sometimes concerned” about data breaches. Also, 80% of respondents said their company should ask for permission before using AI to gather data on them.

Meister also cites a recent case in which the use of AI without a “human in the loop” led to major litigation. In this example, the Michigan Integrated Data Automated System (MiDAS), used AI to replace human investigators, with the goal of improving efficiencies in determining fraudulent unemployment claims. The outcome was quite different.

Due to the lack of human verification, the AI algorithms used erroneously by MiDAS flagged over 30,000 unemployment claimants for committing fraud. Jennifer Lord, the attorney acting on behalf of plaintiffs in a class-action suit, commented that the “faulty algorithms used resulted in thousands of claimants filing for bankruptcy, losing homes and unable to pass credit checks.”

To avoid making that type of mistake in the age of algorithms, humans need to work in partnership with AI to ensure fairness, explainability and accountability.

“Already, a number of AI providers are touting how they place humans in the loop to answer questions AI cannot,” Meister says, adding that this trend may even lead to a possible new HR job role: “chatbot coach.”

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For instance, she cites DBS Bank in Taiwan, whose head of HR created such a position. In a post-pandemic world, a chatbot coach would work with a recruiting team to handle the routine tasks of screening, scheduling and answering frequently asked questions by candidates. Human recruiters then have more time to focus on strategic areas.

“More HR leaders will explore using AI post-pandemic and there well may be a new focus with new use cases,” Meister says.

John Sumser

HR tech guru John Sumser, founder, principal author and editor-in-chief of HRExaminer, has a few more suggestions for HR leaders in the post-pandemic AI world: Be creative, and stay away from outdated processes.

“Some HR tech vendors are going to show HR AI-based solutions they claim will continue to work,” Sumser says. “But, in general, what we’ve discovered is that we’re in a new period and historical data has now become mainly irrelevant.”

Instead, Sumser calls the post-pandemic HR world a “super opportunity” to stop, examine and discard old assumptions—a truly rare opportunity to think outside the box.

“When you get a chance to totally re-examine your assumptions, all sorts of things become possible,” he says. “And if you’re examining assumptions about what works and what doesn’t work, the smart thing to do is make that inquiry as broad as possible.

“You can’t predict a future that has little to do with the past,” he adds. “This is new territory in so many ways.”

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To read part 1, click here. To read part 2, click here.

Tom Starner is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia who has been covering the human resource space and all of its component processes for over two decades. He can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.