When someone says artificial intelligence, visions of a robot uprising might spring to mind. But modern AI isn't just following in science fiction's footsteps but rather developing into spaces we might not have predicted. Take HR Tech, for example, one of the biggest HR conferences of the entire year. Generally held in Las Vegas in September, the recent version was dominated largely by one theme: AI. There were over 350 vendors, and it seemed like every booth used AI in their marketing, mentioned AI if you visited the booth, and had a tool that used AI as part of its technology. AI was everywhere and it sounds like that trend is here to stay. In fact, it will likely continue to get even more pervasive in the world of human resources and hiring best practices.
So that begs the question: what really are the applications of AI from a talent management perspective? And should we all be running out to adopt them?
What is artificial intelligence?
There's actually a good deal of confusion about what AI is and where it came from within the market. Short answer: AI makes use of computer science to replicate or perform actions that previously required human intelligence to carry out. And it's not a new concept. AI actually debuted at a conference at Dartmouth University in 1956. Yep, 11 years after the end of WW2, AI was on the scene. At the time, there was a lot of optimism of it. Some people at the conference believed that AI powered machines would be doing the work of humans by the mid-1970s. Of course, as we know that didn’t happen -- what happened instead was that funding dried up and a period called “The AI Winter” began. That ostensibly lasted into the 2000s, when IBM’s Watson peaked a lot of interest in artificial intelligence again.
Now we’re at an interesting place. Like PCs in the early 1980s or the Internet in the early 1990s, artificial intelligence is “out there” and people know about it - take all the examples of Tom Cruise and Keanu Reeves movies, for one. Hearing people talk about Siri or Alexa is also becoming more commonplace in the average home but it hasn’t impacted businesses on the same level just yet. (Well, not most businesses.) Prominent Silicon Valley executives, like Sam Altman of Y Combinator and Elon Musk of Tesla/RocketX, are beginning to do more around AI -- including being scared of its potential ramifications.
How does AI impact talent acquisition right now?
AI can be helpful in top-of-funnel hiring activities like screening multiple resumes (think high-volume hiring or coveted open roles), scheduling interviews, and even some elements of sourcing, or finding job candidate's profiles on different platforms and job boards. All of those elements are essentially more rote, logistical tasks. They do currently take up a lot of time for human recruiters, though. Think about it this way: a human recruiter, at an average of 10 seconds per resume, would take over a half-hour to screen 200 resumes. An AI system would be done in about the first 10 seconds. It’s mostly a top-of-funnel time management alleviation system at present.
So AI can save us time but what about the future? Are we headed for robot led interviews? In all likelihood, no. Or, rather, yes for some roles and probably an increasing amount of roles, but it will take years before anything like this would be normative. Think about something like social media. Social media has been around since 2004 or so, and most companies still don’t have a great hold on how to manage those processes. Companies adopt and buy technology relatively quickly, but they don’t always know how to deploy it successfully for years after that. AI is potentially another example of that -- plus there are tons of social-emotive repercussions to AI truly getting to scale, i.e. the reduction or loss of human jobs and the sheer weirdness of having a conversation with a machine, something Will Smith recently proved with lifelike robot Sophia.
What are the drawbacks to using AI in the hiring process?
As intriguing as the capabilities of AI in the talent space are, don't dive in too quickly. There are lessons to be learned about already tested, and failed, approaches to AI in the workplace. Amazon is famous for it's attitude to technology and automation and recently ventured into the world of AI recruiting with a secret tool they developed to hire faster and better. The problem, however, is that AI is still coded by developers and that means there is a big human element to all of this. For Amazon, that turned into unintentional hiring biases that led them to scrap the AI sorting program.
And because AI is still a machine processing information, there are loopholes smart candidates can use to skirt the system. Many resume sorters, for example, run off of searches for keywords. A clever candidate who figures that out can give themselves an advantage by tailoring their resumes to the keywords the machine will pick out. In a similar vein, you'd also run the risk of losing potentially great candidates just because they might have had a less orthodox professional background that the program sorts out as a poor prospect.
Can AI improve hiring?
So with all those drawbacks in play, is AI even useful right now or should we all agree to revisit this in 5-10 years when the technology is more advanced? Well, if you're hoping for a hologram to interview your next hire then you might be out of luck. But there are some useful
Untapt: If AI based resume screening is what you're looking for, Untapt combines Natural Language Processing and Deep Learning to help you process the mountains of candidate information you likely collect over a recruitment search.
Entelo: What do you do when your ideal candidate already has a job? Entelo looks to help recruiters source better candidates and can even predict the likelihood of someone leaving their current position.
Affectiva: Ever wish you knew what a candidate was thinking? That's exactly what Affectiva is trying to by analyzing facial expressions and vocal cues to provide insights into cognitive and emotional states.
Textio: Are you job descriptions hurting the quality of candidate you're attracting? Up your writing game with Textio, an augmented writing tool that helps bring science to the written word.
The future is coming
The key take away in this debate of AI is that to some extent AI is here in a usable form right now. Is it as sophisticated as it will likely get? Probably not. Can you hire great people without it? Absolutely. But can it be used to automate some of the biggest time sucks of recruiting? Potentially yes. If you want to be an earlier adopter a simple google search will show you the dozens of companies throwing their lot in with AI. Some tools are better than others and at this point, the onus is on the user to find the right fit for them. While we might not be in the world of robot coworkers yet, change is coming and one way or another we need to make our peace with AI because it doesn't look like it's a trend that's fading any time soon.