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Why Talent Development Shouldn’t Fear AI

Thursday, July 19, 2018
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Artificial Intelligence means a lot of things to a lot of different people. It’s difficult to nail down what exactly it is; it’s easier to start with what it is not. AI is not a Jetsons-style robot that lives in your home and does all your domestic duties for you. It won’t cook your bacon and eggs, nor will it serve you breakfast in the morning. AI also is not a Terminator-type robot that is intent on destroying the human race.

Bottom line: while it is impressive what AI can do, it cannot think for itself. Instead, developers train AI systems to make decisions based on a massive amount of data. If you pay attention to AI news, you’ve likely heard of Google Duplex (If you haven’t, it’s worth looking up on YouTube.) Duplex is a new AI-powered assistant that Google CEO Sundar Pichai premiered at Google i/O. It’s impressive. In the keynote demonstration, it talks and interacts with a receptionist at a hair salon in a way that feels very human, and is able to successfully make an appointment, without the receptionist ever knowing that she isn't speaking with a human.

However, while this technology is amazing, it isn’t actually intelligent in the same way that humans are. Duplex is the result of years of training a machine to interact with humans in a specific way. When the receptionist says that the requested time for a haircut is unavailable, Duplex is able to schedule one for a different time. But it doesn't do this by thinking about it. Instead, it listens to what the receptionist says, then checks that information against its training data. It combs the calendar of its client and searches for free time in the client's schedule. Using that information it responds to the receptionist in a human way, asking if there is an appointment during that free time.

That sounds like thinking, but there is a major difference. It’s not thinking critically. If the client’s calendar isn’t kept up to date with all appointments or unavailable times, the AI might not function as well. For instance, if you didn’t block out “no appointments available” from 5:00 p.m. until 9:00 a.m. the next day, the AI might ask the receptionist for an appointment at 9:30 in the evening. A human personal assistant will know when you’re out of the office or when is a reasonable time to set an appointment. AI won’t. That’s because we aren’t close enough to create a do-it-all kind of intelligence (also called “Artificial General Intelligence” or “AGI”) that would allow a machine to think critically.

It’s best to think of AI like a tool rather than a sentient being. In fact, it’s very similar to spreadsheet software. Just as spreadsheets changed business by saving time in accounting and mathematics, AI will improve the workplace by alleviating inefficient and boring tasks. Just like you can’t imagine running a large business without the help of digital spreadsheets, you won’t be able to run large organizations without AI in the future. But that’s a good thing—it will relieve us from mundane tasks and leave us free to innovate and explore.

How AI Is Already Used in Talent Management

We all use artificial intelligence every day, even at work. However, it’s most notable in the HR and recruitment sectors.

Resume scanning technologies are a good example of how HR directors and recruiters are already using AI. Thanks to such companies as ZipRecruiter, Monster, Facebook, Indeed, and LinkedIn, hiring has changed dramatically in the last 20 years. That’s because these companies have made the hiring process completely digital. In the past, recruiters would receive several dozen applications. Now, they might receive several hundred because applying online has become as easy as uploading a resume and clicking “Send.”

While hiring online sounds promising (after all, a bigger pool of applicants means that it’s more likely that the right person is in there), it actually isn’t very efficient. Today, recruiters have mounds of CVs to sort through, which takes a lot of time and energy. It also costs the company more time and money overall to find qualified candidates in these huge pools of applicants. Artificial intelligence is a practical solution to this problem .

First, it “reads” resumes to find the most qualified candidates in a large pool of applicants, speeding up the process for the director and eliminating much of the boring manual labor. It then helps screen candidates by using “smart tools” like video interviews and text conversations . The use of these tools creates a number of benefits for the actual humans using them. Hiring managers spend less time sorting, reading, and understanding applications, and more time on meeting the right candidate.

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HR and recruitment teams also use AI to create job listings and add diversity to their hires. For example, a technology called “Text Sentiment” analyzes job descriptions to see how masculine or feminine the description is. It also can analyze text for other factors, like how old or young it sounds. The technology can help a company tailor a job description listing to find a specific candidate who is younger than 30 with a Master’s degree.

Another application of AI in the workplace becoming increasingly common is the use of chatbots. These are a relatively new AI development that can help field basic customer questions, such as “How do I order this product?” or “What is your return policy?” The bot can analyze this question and provide the customer with the relevant information or a link to a page with the answer. You’ve probably encountered one of these while you surf the web. They tend to pop up in the corner of a website, asking if you need any help while browsing.

Chatbots also can be used in the hiring process and can help vet candidates early on, asking questions about salary requirements and experience levels. Chatbots help expand small sales, recruitment, and even human resources teams. The technology is still young and the experience still needs some improvement, but this tech will definitely emerge over the next few years.

The Future of AI in Training

At EDIA, we are focused on how AI will change corporate training and development efforts. We predict that AI will take the learning process and break it down into three processes: measuring, adapting, and personalizing.

Measure. When an employee begins a corporate training program, an AI software will be able to track everything that the employee does in the system, gauging how quickly an employee picks up on a subject or if they are struggling with a certain task area. It learns about employees as they learn about the content, creating a constant loop of feedback for improvement. We also call this “learner analytics.” AI also can measure a number of other aspects of a training content, including readability level, sentiment, and even how masculine or feminine content is.

Adapt. As the artificial intelligence measures what the employee is doing and analyzing the feedback from the training program, the AI will adapt the training content to fit the employee’s needs. For example, if multiple employees are struggling with a certain part of the training, then the AI will be able to notify the instructional designers to adjust that part of the training. AI also can add additional content to clarify a confusing question or provide more context for a unclear situation. In short, it will be able to automatically update itself to be better and more efficient.

Personalize. AI will be personalized for users, based on their individual needs. It will use the data from an entire group of learners to find out where there are content issues in a training program, allowing it to create content more suitable for training. AI may provide performance support content to individual employees when needed, or make recommendations for who employees should talk to within the company for more help. For example, most tests don’t go beyond Q&A formats, but AI will help generate better questions based on the learners’ unique learning style and pace. That’s where the adaptive element will come into play as the next generation of learning.

Bottom Line

Companies need to start preparing for the disruption of artificial intelligence in the workforce. If they don’t, they will fall behind as technology progresses. Overcoming pervasive fears and misconceptions about AI will help accelerate your business into the future.

The reality is that AI will not simply take over business. But it will change work for the better. AI will help businesses push the boundaries in ways that were previously unimaginable, such as reducing costs, increasing efficiency, and relieving labor from repetitive or boring tasks. It also will help corporate learning efforts, making training more intelligent, personalized, and effective.

About the Author
Jaeques Koeman is CEO of EDIA, an EdTech company based in Amsterdam. He has a background in computer science at the University of Amsterdam, specializing in the application of artificial intelligence in education. EDIA's latest development is 360AI, an artificial intelligence engine created specifically for educational content providers.
1 Comment
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I see so much contradiction among experts in the AI debate. Some say it will make employee working lives better and companies will prosper with huge increases in efficiency. Others say AI will evolve (in 50 years or so) and attain the capability to perform nearly every knowledge-worker job that exists, leaving most of us with no way to earn a living. That the future is uncertain, is truer now than ever before.
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