By Varun Gupta
The fact that Artificial Intelligence is set to change our life is well established. Many technology firms and enterprises have already placed their bets on the impact AI will have on the human race. This post isn’t about the power or about the pros and cons of AI. History is witness that every new breakthrough by mankind has its positives and negatives: from fire to electricity to nuclear power… the list goes on. What matters is how we use these breakthroughs and technologies for the advancement of the human race. Advancement that is both inclusive and sustainable.
Seeing this technology develop in close quarters, it has made me curious about how HR can take a leadership role in this era. This post is about my 3 key takeaways: at a societal level, an organisational level and an individual professional level; to ensure we accelerate the use of AI in the right way.
1) Societal level: Laying an “inclusive” foundation: As HR professionals, we need to help AI systems get trained by data sets and individuals that are inclusive. We cannot have bias creep into these technologies. Bias is a basic human trait; we’re all biased, and we all have preferences. Key is that these biases and preferences do not cloud our judgement, do not make us polarize people and do not make us create a society that isn’t inclusive. As machines learn, they need to be trained to have an inclusive foundation. Recent articles about facial recognition are just examples of how this technology can go wrong, and how we need to quickly learn from these mistakes and course correct. The question “Can we keep our biases from creeping into AI” was also raised in a recent Harvard Business Review issue.
Hence, now more than ever, we need to build workplaces that are diverse and inclusive. This forms the right foundation for the ideation and development of technology that minimises, if not completely eliminates bias. And this isn’t about driving metrics, but about fostering real cultural change. For decades, IBM has been a pioneer in this space. And I’m proud as an IBMer that we’re extending this leadership in the era of AI: learning and developing systems to mitigate bias. You can read about it here.
2) Organisational level: Technology for skill development: The recent LinkedIn’s 2017 US Emerging Jobs Report talks about Machine Learning Engineer job, one that didn’t exist 2 years back. And this comes as no surprise: AI and Machine Learning will impact all jobs; each of us will need to scale ourselves to understand and work with machines to make the most of them. However, let’s take a step back. Think about the time when the personal computer was first introduced. Most people didn’t know how to use it, leave alone imagine the world we could create with it. Eventually, as we started learning, new jobs got created. But more importantly, existing professions reinvented themselves to use personal computers to become more effective. Pick any profession: lawyers, doctors, management professionals, teachers: and think how their professions have evolved, not replaced, with the advent of computers (and subsequent technologies like the internet). Now think about AI and its impact on professions and in many ways, it’s back to the future!
In an organisational context, we know a skilled and talented workforce is imperative for companies to be successful. But the question isn’t just what new skills employees need. The question also is – how do we use AI in our organisations to help employees improve their skills? How do we use Machine Learning to enable individualised and personalised learning road maps for employees, so they can be on a journey assisted by technology? How can we ensure employees get the resources and support of these technologies, so they can scale at the rate that they need to? This concept is being explored, developed and deployed in the education field. A recent TED talk demonstrates how AI was used to develop an automated teaching assistant. IBM has been taking bold steps in this direction for our employees. You can read about how Watson is embedded in our Learning offerings here.
3) Individual level: HR Professional: As we gear up for this next era of man and machine, what differentiates the HR professional of tomorrow? We’ve seen the function evolve over the decades, from administrative to strategic, from policy owners to change agents. What do we need to reinvent our profession now? The answer is innocuously simple – empathy and coaching. The skill that would differentiate successful HR professionals from the rest would be the ability to coach. Coach our business leaders as they navigate these times, coach our people managers who are balancing employee and organisational demands, and most importantly, coach our peers – as we work together to reinvent the HR profession. And this isn’t template based coaching, this is coaching whose foundation is based on empathy – empathy to understand and appreciate that each individual is striving to make a better future for himself or herself and empathy to understand that unless we are inclusive, we’re not going to be successful.
IBM CEO Ginni Rometty shared at a recent interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos that AI will propel the world forward. I’m inspired and am on this journey to learn, develop and embrace this technology for the advancement of our function and our world. I look forward to your feedback and comments!
Varun Gupta is the HR Director for IBM Research (AI, Blockchain and Quantum), based in New York.