8 min read.Updated: 18 Feb 2019, 07:25 PM ISTKul Bhushan
AI’s impact in HR, in very basic terms, can be understood as a tale of faster and more informed decision making
AI algorithms could evaluate resumes on the basis of their experience and desired qualifications, providing a round of vetting with little or no effort
Artificial Intelligence is the latest buzzword in the technology space. As expected, the automation has made things easier and smarter in various industries, ranging from healthcare, startups to even human resources.
Unlike the implementation of Artificial Intelligence in other sectors, the HR space becomes trickier as it involves sensitive employee-employer relationship. Also, will employees trust machines to evaluate their performance or even play a role in recruiting them? Nonetheless, there are several advantages that AI brings to this segment.
We spoke to Kazim Rizvi, founder of The Dialogue, a research and public-policy think-tank, on the role of Artificial Intelligence in Human Resources. Here are the edited excerpts of the interview.
HR has been one of the biggest adopters of AI. Can you explain the role of AI in HR?
AI’s impact in HR, in very basic terms, can be understood as a tale of faster and more informed decision making. HR is a vast field with diverse and intricate functions, such as conflict mediation, capacity building, and hiring. To better understand where AI plays a part, let us consider the impact of this new technology on hiring mechanisms.
Many variables go into deciding when a resume should be rejected or accepted. For the sake of simplicity, let us limit ourselves to two, qualifications and experience. Hiring managers often decide what candidacies to take forward on the basis of the content they see on the resumes. Job applications for MNCs, for instance, can be tedious as the aspirants may be in the thousands and may take a team weeks to shortlist the right individuals.
The inclusion of AI has immense scope to speed up this process. The algorithms could evaluate resumes on the basis of their experience and desired qualifications, providing a round of vetting with little or no effort. In addition, the decisions made by AI would be purely objective, without any influence of external factors.
For instance, human decisions may be swayed towards rejections if they face hunger, as is evidenced by court rulings which may depend partly on when the judge last had a snack . In addition, AI could theoretically also be used to check the authenticity of certifications in real time (through a unique number/QR provided in the certificates or by cross checking with the database of the organization which provided the certification in the first place), identifying areas in a resume which might appear less than adequate while also simultaneously analysing the aspirant's social media accounts.
Doing this for 1000 applicants would turn out to be a matter of hours if not minutes with adequate processing capacity, managing and reducing the hiring workload of HR in companies and augmenting their understandings to make better and more informed decisions.
Apart from assistance in hiring and data management, what other roles can AI play?
AI’s role across sectors is far from saturated. Because the technology is so new, there is a great possibility for AI to add value in professional life, regardless of the sector, it may be applied to. While some applications are being deployed right now, we can expect to see others in the coming years.
For instance, a frequently used application that comes to mind when we consider AI’s role in daily life today is Grammarly. Grammarly is a helpful tool for professionals who use their computers to generate any kind of content. Its incorporation with other software actualized immense potential for teams as well. Because Grammarly can be used to check for grammatical errors in real time on Google Docs, teams can focus on creating content while simultaneously using the AI to perform corrections in real time. This would essentially mean a round of editing at the same time when writers finish creating content, making proofreading easier and less tedious. This can be achieved with the technology we have available now, virtually free with no new additions or purchases needed.
Similarly, AI could prove to save costs and effort going forward across sectors. Let us take the example of the healthcare sector in India. AI holds tremendous potential in this area. Doctors are often averse to travel to rural areas to perform diagnosis and treatment. A well-trained AI could potentially check for diseases and could also prescribe medication in routine cases. This would work regardless of distance, terrain, and weather conditions. Developing such software could have spillover effects as well. Routine health checkups of rural areas would lead to smarter record keeping, leading to better allocation of medication and availability of the same. In addition, it could also theoretically do wonders for institutional childbirth as it would give the governments a better idea of when mothers are due in rural areas, granting them the foresight to provide transport to hospitals, enhancing accessibility to facilities.
So the applications for AI across spaces are yet to be fully explored and could have large-scale effects on areas that we may not suspect. At the time of writing, the areas for application of AI may be endless.
Can AI replace the human HRs?
It might be a stretch to say that AI can completely replace human HR systems today. The present capabilities of algorithms can at best bring about a change in the nature of decisions that HR has to face and help them in the same. It may be too soon to expect AI to handle tasks such as conflict moderation or inappropriate workplace behavior. The sheer number of nuances that a human HR professional can account for while considering, say, a case of hostile work environment is presently not under the realm of AI possibility. This does not, however, rule out the possibility that AI will be about to take on those tasks in the future. Whether the algorithms make objectively right decisions each time is yet to be seen (but may largely depend on the data that the application is fed). Regardless, it will be interesting to see how AI tackles problems with moral grey areas that HR professionals do on a daily basis.
Having said that, there are still some aspects of HR that AI can contribute to. Recruitment, for instance. A novel way in which AI can tackles recruitment is by deriving insights from resumes. If programmed to look for keywords and phrases in resumes, AI can weed out applicants that do not qualify for the posting and would even theoretically develop insights into where each applicant's strength may lie, informing the decisions to be taken by humans.
Do we need AI HRs after all?
There are two reasons behind why companies ‘need’ AI to work in tandem or take over their HR duties. Firstly, there is the prospect of minimizing costs and maximizing efficiencies. Companies could save a fortune by augmenting or replacing their hiring departments while speeding up their rate of acceptances or rejections. In an ideal world, the hiring managed by AI would be free from biases and informed on the basis of data that reflects the values of the company that deploys the algorithm.
This brings us to the second foreseeable goal, i.e. informing decisions, or even making decisions. In either case, the involvement of AI in the process could prove to be instrumental for managing workloads. If AI were to inform decisions, it could be used to weed out aspirants on the first stage before humans can debate on the profiles that have been deemed more ‘suitable’ for the company on the next stage. On the other hand, AI making the ultimate decision on hiring might be some ways from widespread adoption.
In use cases where teams may want to meet prospective members and would like to judge the chemistry and compatibility of the aspirants, AI may still need time to develop. For instance, humans might make the decision on an applicant on how the conversations unfold and whether they are able to strike a chord with the interviewee.
While the same is theoretically possible through the use of AI, there may be some time before the practical application is achieved to test for compatibility with team dynamics. AI would need to be informed on the parameters it needs to judge candidacies on, which may differ on a team basis and would need to be fed into the algorithm. In other words, AI making the ultimate decision on hiring people (with interviews) is as distant as the collection of data and defining of parameters on which interviews are conducted.
Can humans come to terms with the fact that a machine is shortlisting/hiring/rejecting them? Please elaborate.
Should AI completely replace human systems for recruitment, there are multiple nuances to how humans in the future may deal with an AI governing hiring. Let us try to visualize how such a future might look like. Firstly, if an AI is taking charge of recruitment by vetting resumes and candidacies, humans would need to adapt their applications to companies by mentioning keywords and phrases that they speculate AI may be looking for in an application. So, for example, to get around AI sorting resumes, aspirants with relevant qualifications and experience would need to strengthen their resumes with keywords that the AI values more than the others. If some phrases or content is valued higher than others, it could lead to a permanent change in how resumes are structured, and potentially give rise to a standard format of resumes.
Apart from AI processing applications at lightning speeds, AI-driven recruitment 10 years from now could have predictive implications. If given full access, AI could scan potential recruits on social media such as Linkedin, without even opening job applications and reach out to prospects based on their likelihood of joining, mentioned skill sets and/or interests. In effect, an AI-driven world could lead to the end of the job hunt in favor of the job hunting for you.