Sky-Not: AI’s Future in the Workplace

Artificial intelligence (AI) is here, and it’s here to stay. In fact, President Donald Trump recently signed an Executive Order that encouraged federal agencies to invest in research and development in AI, an area in which businesses have been leading the way.

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Already, more than 10,000 start-ups are developing AI or using it for core, essential functions.[1] A Deloitte survey[2] found that 72% of professionals think AI is important for the future of their firm, and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) found that 63% of companies believe they need to reconsider the role of HR in light of its growing role.[3] Many HR teams are worried that these plans will lead to a workplace completely run by computers. Thankfully, those fears, like many outlandish claims of AI’s capabilities, are overhyped. In fact, HR is one aspect of business operations where AI can help.

The growing role of computers in HR doesn’t herald the end of the modern workplace or even a necessarily negative trend. HR can be augmented by technology, but it can never fully be replaced. The human element is inextricably linked to human resources management. In fact, AI could be a force for tremendous good, saving HR personnel thousands of hours and improving the work lives of millions. We just have to be smart about its implementation.

AI might seem like magic to those unfamiliar with what AI is and how it works, and this likely contributes to the fear that AI will replace human workers. But AI is not magic. It’s just complex computations, algorithms, and mathematics, nowhere close to approximating the total capacity of a human being. For most businesses, the subcategory of AI that is making the biggest difference right now is called machine learning. In machine learning, a programmer builds a model, establishes parameters and conditions for why the program should make certain choices, and then trains the model using large amounts of data to reinforce its decision-making processes.

What is AI in practice? Google’s Gmail platform is an excellent example of successful machine learning. Their recent addition, Gmail’s smart compose feature,[4] analyzed millions of e-mails; identified common patterns, greetings, and phrases; and then incorporated the resulting suggestions throughout their platform. Every time someone takes its suggestion, Gmail’s network gets a new data point, and the program grows a little smarter. As a result, Gmail offers a product no other service can: e-mails that literally write themselves.

Netflix also uses machine learning to assist with content recommendations and personalization. They have over 139 million subscribers, each with an established set of diverse tastes and content interests, but are able to keep them engaged with the platform by recommending new content that will resonate. Netflix engineers use machine learning to recognize the common threads between a user’s favorite shows and movies, going above and beyond surface-level commonalities like genres, actors, and studios, and then recommend appropriate pieces of media. It’s one of the ways they attracted new viewers to their Marvel shows, even if viewers weren’t previously familiar with the characters, Marvel, or comics in general.

Similarly, people remain an inseparable part of HR teams to manage the inner workings of a business, performing tasks no computer can. HR staff play a crucial role in providing strategic oversight for improving recruiting, retention, and encouraging a positive workplace culture. The overwhelming majority of businesses will recognize that and make decisions accordingly.

As AI develops further, there will be many possibilities and applications for its use in the office. In the meantime, HR managers shouldn’t be afraid to integrate the use of technology and machine learning into their companies. As it stands, there are platforms that can help reduce the tedium of basic HR tasks, including collecting résumés, managing paid time off (PTO), or updating a staff organization chart. These platforms may just be starting to leverage AI, but in the meantime, they are already able to lift some of the administrative workloads from HR personnel so they can focus on strategic and executive oversight.

In the HR industry of the future, AI could help to identify dissatisfied employees looking to move on, patterns in recruiting that lead to higher acceptance rates of job offers, and correlations between retention and employment factors such as role, compensation, and promotion frequency. Ultimately, HR leaders leveraging data from HR software and AI will have a better understanding of their organization, can make more informed business decisions, and will have a competitive advantage over those who simply go with their gut or basic observations.

Brett Derricott is the Founder of Built for Teams.