by Janine N. Truitt
The fourth industrial revolution is upon us, and “disruption” is the theme. The World Economic Forum reports that this revolution, “includes developments in previously disjointed fields such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, robotics, nanotechnology, 3-D printing, and genetics and biotechnology.” All of which are supposed to not only disrupt how we do business, but also usher in the need for an entirely different labor market within the next five years.
According to a MIT Technology Review article from 2016, the White House stated, “that it believes future presidents should try to shape how AI technology evolves and is deployed.” This sentiment was echoed in a recent Q&A with Mo Gawdat, former chief business officer for Google X, at UNLEASH 2018 in Las Vegas. In this discussion, Gawdat shared a similar sentiment: we are at an “inflection point”—you may even say, a reflection point. His sense and mine is that we need to reflect on who we are and what we have become in the past five decades or so. It is from that point of view that we need to envision the world we want. The inflection point, in some regard, is already upon us, but from some reflection we can start to think of some ways that working with smarter technologies can improve our way of life and work. Part of the concern Gawdat has expressed is cognitive technologies such as AI will be (and are currently) learning from us based on the information that lives in our systems and on the Internet. If we look at that information objectively, there are far more data points filled with fear, discrimination, poor practices, and anger on our servers than positive examples for the world we want for the future. The good news here is we have the ability to change it—by changing the way we do things now, instead of waiting for a prime time in the future.
“HR can’t afford to have change happen to it.”
I am encouraging my fellow HR practitioners to see this turning point in humanity and history as a prime opportunity for our profession. Yes, we will need to reskill and adapt to new expectations, but that’s true with every technological evolution and previous industrial revolutions. In return, we have also gained many degree fields, jobs, and sectors people couldn’t have dreamt of 30–40 years ago. The emergence of cognitive technologies is no different. We will gain new jobs, sectors, and ways of operating in business. In fact, the same World Economic Forum report states that, amidst the loss, we will add 2.1 million jobs in more “specialized” job families, such as computer and mathematical or architecture and engineering.
By the way, did you forget that these technologies are being developed by us humans? Remembering this fact means that how the emergence of cognitive technology proliferates is largely dependent on the latitude and capabilities we give them. In other words, we ought to define the moral and ethical limits to meet our expectations. Although, according to Gawdat, with smarter technologies, it’s not a matter of “if,” but rather “when” machines exceed human intelligence, which is reported to happen in 2029.
Here are some reasons why HR should be driving change as we continue to explore how we can best work with technology:
- Assessing human capability. Do you know what the collective and individual capabilities, interests, and motivations of your workforce are? Chances are your answer is “no,” but this is a great place for us to start engaging AI products to assess organization-wide sentiment, so we can start solving for some of the more pressing workforce issues.
- Clarity and efficiency. If we’re honest, we have never been able to control human behavior, nor have we been great at predicting it. All we really have success in is creating the best possible circumstances for our workforces to thrive. Our imminent partnership with smarter technologies means we can finally be better at using the data we have to predict, forecast, and model workforce outcomes.
- HR and humanity still have a purpose. The human touch is still needed in everything we do, because humans haven’t altogether stopped being human. Let’s face it: many of the technologies reported to shift the way we work are not going to be great or reliable for a long time to come. That said, while they are becoming great and exceeding our ability to cognate, there is still time to decide what is best left to the machines to do and where our real value proposition lies in the future as an industry.
In a lot of ways, the things we fear about robots and AI are misguided. What we fear are not the actual technologies, but the change it is ushering in and the perceived lack of control we have to change the trajectory of humanity. You can’t manage what you don’t acknowledge or keep record on.
Here are some more ways to participate in the shift:
- Educate yourself and your teams as much as you can on AI, natural language processing, robotics, virtual reality, and augmented reality. It’s less scary when you’ve assessed them yourself rather than relied on others’ fear-based anecdotes. The more you know about the technologies you will be interacting with, the better.
- Speak up. Presuming that you are using technology in the way of an applicant tracking system or HCM solution currently, it is safe to think your respective vendor will start to implement any one of these smarter technologies as part of your current product suite. Be sure to communicate how they can continue to serve you best. It should not be about implementing smarter technologies for the sake of being cool—it needs to be applicable to the organization and practitioner’s needs.
There are no right or wrong answers in how we best partner with technologies going forward. The goal should be to move forward together for the better of everyone involved.