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The hope and danger in HR’s use of artificial intelligence

August 01, 20235 min read

The hope and danger in HR’s use of artificial intelligence

Depending on whom you ask, the rapidly exploding capabilities of artificial intelligence (AI) will go one of two ways. It will either: 

  1. Save the human resource manager and his or her department from being buried under a growing mountain of responsibilities while providing the company a competitive advantage. 

  2. Be the end of the world as we know it. 

So what exactly is the future of AI in human resources, how is it being used already, and what could it offer HR professionals in the future? Let’s talk about that. 

What the data says

The first thing to know is that AI is not some far-fetched futuristic technology. It is already here and its use will grow.

According to Eightfold AI’s report entitled “The Future of Work: Intelligent By Design,” which surveyed 250 HR leaders and nearly 1,000 employees, the majority said they are already using AI across HR functions such as: 

  • Employee records management (78 percent)

  • Payroll processing and benefits administration (77 percent)

  • Recruitment and hiring (73 percent)

  • Performance management (72 percent) 

  • Onboarding new employees (69 percent)

In addition, 92 percent of HR leaders surveyed said they intend to increase their AI use in at least one area of HR, with the top areas listed being performance management, payroll processing and benefits administration, and recruitment and hiring. Most plan to do so in the next 12 to 18 months. 

With AI being a very-present reality right now, to say we’re at the proverbial fork in the road is probably correct. AI is and can be used for things that make the HR professional’s life much easier. It also has the potential to cause great and potentially expensive harm for businesses. 

The good

AI offers tremendous future possibilities in helping businesses select candidates that better fit their culture and the job that actually needs to get done. It has the potential to craft better job descriptions and to more accurately filter through candidates’ resumes and cover letters to weed out the often costly mistakes hiring managers make by selecting a mismatched candidate. Its potential to administer and score pre-employment screening exams to pick out important nuggets of truth that compare well with the most successful employees in that position is inviting. 

It also can develop personalized onboarding to present a better welcome to new hires, a vital benefit when research from Brandon Hall Group revealed that organizations with great onboarding processes improve new hire retention by 82 percent. 

Perhaps the biggest benefit, certainly from the HR professional’s point of view, is AI’s ability to take on the laborious, monotonous tasks that often bog down a human and keep him or her from doing much more valuable work. AI’s increased use in screening resumes, scheduling interviews, automating paperwork, identifying training needs, providing that training, and being the 24/7 expert on the most common questions would change traditional HR as we know it. 

But … 

The bad … and the ugly

While AI has the potential to do tremendous good for HR professionals and the employees they want to help succeed, it also has been shown to easily run amok. Unchecked AI isn’t just a kooky thing to laugh at; it can be downright dangerous. 

For example, it took less than six hours for a drug-developing AI to invent 40,000 potentially lethal molecules, some of which are similar to the most potent nerve agent ever developed, VX. All that had to be done was to change the focus of the AI from weeding out dangerous-to-human compounds to asking it to recommend them. 

Yikes. 

What does this look like in the HR world? It doesn’t have to be as nefarious as purposefully putting AI into a “bad actor” mode. AI is backed by what’s called Large Language Models. That’s essentially the data put into an AI model to have it generate the responses that wow us for being super smart. 

The problem is, unintentional biases in those models are leading to some ugly results. For example, the federal government warned in May 2022 that AI being used to screen new job candidates or monitor workplace productivity can unfairly discriminate against people with disabilities, a civil rights law violation. 

Other research has shown that AI can often discriminate against people of color when it comes to hiring, salary increases and promotion. 

All of these potentially costly and ethically questionable situations that are popping up led a group of tech heavyweights to call late last month for a pause on “giant AI experiments.” In a letter signed by tech stalwarts including Elon Musk and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, the pause is said to be needed because large-scale AI systems create, “profund risks to society and humanity.” 

What now? 

Remember how cool your first cell phone was? Sure, it might have been attached to a briefcase you had to carry around, or maybe its most advanced feature was the ability to play the Snake game. But it was revolutionary and life-changing. 

It also has had untold number of bad unintended consequences, from physical ailments in fingers and necks through increased usage not compatible with our body structure to booming rates of teen depression and suicides linked to social media. 

That should be instructive to HR professionals as they look to incorporate more AI into their departments for the benefit of the company. An AI boom could be really, really good. It also could be really, really bad. 

The message? Proceed, but be cautious and keep ethics at the forefront. 

If you need help planning for your company’s AI integration, consider hiring an expert HR consultant to assist.

 

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