HR Management & Compliance, Technology

Using AI in the HR Landscape: A Q&A with Emily He

In part one of our interview with Emily He, Senior Vice President of Oracle’s Human Capital Management Cloud Business Group, we discussed how artificial intelligence (AI) is humanizing work for Human Resources (HR) professionals and employees, alike. Today we’ll continue our conversation with Emily and look at how AI is helping to improve the HR space, especially in hiring and recruiting new workers.


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Recruiting Daily Advisor (RDA): What exactly do you mean when you say Artificial Intelligence? There seems to be a lot of definitions out there.
Emily He: This is a great question. As you said, there has been a lot of coverage about AI, the stories about AI, so the definition is a little bit confusing and blurred. My own perspective is AI or Artificial Intelligence is the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines, especially computer systems.
These processes include learning, which is the acquisition of information and rules for using the information. It also includes reasoning, which is using the rules to reach an approximate or definite conclusion and also self-correction or self-learning. That means coming up with new roles based on the actions and decisions the humans or computers have made in the past.
The particular applications of AI include expert systems, speech recognition, natural language processing, and machine vision. Another aspect of AI is the way we interface with technology. Chatbot and voice user interface (UI) are new ways for humans to interact with software. They are defined as an automated, yet personalized, conversation between software and human users. The great thing about this new technology is not only can it interface with human users in a human way, but it also learns from your behavior and the decisions you made to make the interaction much more personalized and engaging.
Fundamentally, I think the goal of AI is to get machines and systems to think more like human beings but do it at a scale. There are things that human can do. For example, looking at data and drawing conclusions, following rules, and using reasoning, but when the data gets overwhelming, we lose the ability to keep track of it, reason properly, and draw the right conclusions. This is where AI can be particularly helpful. Humans are really good at emotional intelligence, something humans are not very good at is repetition because that’s laborious and boring.
For example, a customer rep is really good at interacting with the customer and providing that personalized experience, but once you figure out how to deliver that “wow experience,” now you can use machines to scale that interaction across millions of customers.
I think the opportunity AI presents is once we start leveraging AI, humans can focus on designing the optimal customer experience with one customer in mind and once you know what experience works and resonates with the customer, what kind of experience wows the customer, then you can use machines to scale that interaction for many more customers. The same thing goes for employee experience.
RDA: Let’s get more specific about HR. What kind of roles do you see AI playing for HR professionals?
Emily He: Personally, I think HR plays a huge role in the adoption of AI because, as I said before, in the first wave of the consumerization of IT, the business functions really led the revolution and employees really do want to use the same technology at work as the technology they’re using in their daily lives.
Now that the second wave of consumerization of IT is happening, I think HR can lead the charge and use employee experience to lay the foundation for the way companies are engaging with their customers, their partners, and their ecosystem. I believe HR could start experimenting with AI in managing their employee experience, whether it is in the area of recruiting and delivering a better candidate experience through chatbot or voice UI, or they can use AI to better manage their interactions with employees.
Perhaps it’s through an HR help desk while delivering that type of personalized learning experience and career passing opportunities. HR can use AI to make better decisions because now we have the opportunity to marry the people data with the business data and by doing so, we’ll be able to make better decisions and support the business functions.
RDA: Now, there’s a sentiment the technology and AI are going to make the workplace less human, but as we discussed yesterday, you have a different perspective that HR artificial intelligence can actually humanize the workplace. Can you explain that?
Emily He: This is one thing that I just feel so excited about because I think a new dawn is on the horizon and we finally are going to be able to interface with technologies the way we’ve always wanted to. If you think about the evolution of enterprise software, at the beginning it’s really to automate the manual processes, right?
The way we did that is to document our manual processes and create these business processes, create rules, and forums so that we can input the information and have the outcome come out. The benefit of that is the enterprise software and it’s allowing us to be much less paper-based, but the processes are still very rigid, repetitive, and mundane. I don’t think anybody really enjoys using enterprise software in this form filled way. The software today is not intelligent.
Once I go through the process once, for example, when I approve my expense reports, I need to do exactly the same thing next time. The system doesn’t learn anything from my past behavior or past decisions.
It’s almost like if you’re working with a coworker, every time you talk to this person, he’s asking you the same question like: “What’s your name, and what’s your address, and what’s your phone number?” It’s really annoying. Nobody wants to interact with their applications that way.
With voice, UI, and chatbot AI, we now finally have the opportunity to interact with technology in a conversational, interactive, and human way. As I said, my kids spend hours talking to Siri and Alexa, telling jokes, asking science-related questions, getting them to do their homework—much to my dismay—and they’re doing that because it’s fun.
Nobody is telling them to do that. They wanted to do it because they enjoy that type of interaction. For the first time, I see a real possibility of interfacing with technology in a real human way. I also see the possibility of machines taking many personas.
They can be our digital assistant, they can be our mentor, they can be our financial advisor, they can be our personal shopper. The possibilities are endless. I think the role of AI is really to automate the mundane tasks that we don’t want to perform and help us spend more time performing tasks that we’re really good at, tasks that are creative, that are more strategic, and machines can also help us scale what we already know for many more employees and many customers, and by doing so, deliver that personalized and engaging customer experience and employee experience.
Personally, I envision a future where we can spend much less time on repetitive tasks but more on creative ways to wow our employees and customers and do something that we all enjoy.
RDA:  One thing we’ve heard a lot about recently as unconscious bias in the workplace. Would you agree that AI is particularly good at avoiding that bias?
Emily He: Absolutely. I think we’re at the beginning of exploring this topic. There are several ways AI can help us address the unconscious bias in the workplace. One is we can use AI to reduce unconscious bias during the résumé screening process.
AI can be leveraged to analyze the résumés of existing employees, to learn the qualification of a job, and then identify candidates who fit these criteria.  AI can also reduce unconscious bias by ignoring demographic factors such as candidate gender, race, and age that research has shown to affect the hiring decision.
The other way I can think of, that AI can play a role in helping us address unconscious bias, is we can use software to create job postings that attract diverse candidates. For example, research has found that a job posting using too many masculine type words, such as aggressive or challenging, can dissuade female candidates from applying.
If you are looking for more female candidates, then you may want to pay attention to the wording of your job posting and software can really allow us to identify these opportunities for us to improve how we market and position the job and by doing so, you can de-bias a job posting by identifying the exclusionary language and suggesting an alternative that appeals to a more diverse candidate pool.
The other way that we can use AI to address unconscious bias is to use learning solutions to deliver diversity and inclusion training, to educate recruiters and hiring managers about unconscious bias, and how to use database approach to promote diversity in their recruiting practices.
RDA: Looking beyond AI, what other emerging technologies are you looking for? What could we expect in the workplace?
Emily He: There is a whole host of other technology that I think will be really interesting for the area of HR. For example, I’m really excited about the opportunity to use the Internet of Things (IoT) for wellness. I personally am a huge fan of fitness and I wear a Fitbit. What I learned from Fitbit is what gets measured gets done, right?
I try to walk 15,000 steps every day and low and behold I do walk 15,000 steps just because I’m wearing a Fitbit and I think by using IoT we’ll have a better sense of employees’ wellness and health. By getting that data we can offer better benefits packages, we can recommend more wellness programs to our employee, etc.
The other area that I think is fascinating is Blockchain. HR is a very compliance driven industry and we spend a lot of dollars and time on background checks, with Blockchain there’s a possibility that we may not need to rely on a third party for background checks anymore because the whole point of Blockchain is we can democratize that process. That’s another area that we’re looking at as well.
We’ll continue this conversation with Emily He in part three of this article!