Using Machines to make HR more Human

At some point in the career of an HR professional the question is asked:  how can human resources become more human?  At least one company believes it has the answer.  Best Buy Canada says to add more machines.

Chris Taylor is the chief human resources officer for Best Buy Canada.  He has gone on record saying the embracing of artificial intelligence and machine learning applications in human capital management is a “mandatory investment in the future.”

So, why add more machines to make HR more human?

Put simply, technology allows for the freeing of HR professionals to focus on uniquely human abilities such as critical thinking, creativity, and empathy.  While they are involved with the more human task, technology, at the moment, can handle the more mundane tasks.  

Artificial Intelligence

In a piece written for The Globe and Mail, Taylor says, “This applies to both intakes screening of potential new hires as well as relationships with existing team members. Imagine a future where AI-based solutions let job-seekers interact with voice-activated chat bots to get information about open positions or other potential opportunities.”

While that future isn’t far off, chat bots are already being used in human resources. Chat bots allow potential and current employees to ask questions and get a response based on the question. As an example, let's say an employee has a particular question focused benefits. A chat bot is able to search the query and answer it for the employee without any assistance from an HR professional.

While that seems useful, the reality is Artificial Intelligence is "guessing" at the response. What does that statement mean? AI is able to search a query based on the words you are using and give you a response, but that response isn't contextual.

AI is heading in that direction.

"Instead of writing responses specifically to specific inputs… you just have a huge database of language around a specific knowledge domain and the AI can go into that knowledge domain and answer the questions of the user," Robert Clapperton said.  He's over product development with Ametros Learning.

In another turn for AI Taylor says, “The technology may soon be able to give hiring managers recommendations on best-fit candidates for promotion or hire, or predictions about which candidate will accept an offer.”

Machine Learning

HR professionals interested in pursuing AI want it to do much more than answer questions and rummage through applications. They want to use it as a learning platform.

Clapperton says it's not there yet. AI can teach itself to do something, but it's not at the stage it can replace humans beings as the "drivers of education." He points out in the future it may be used that way, but it would require a lot of adaptability.

"I think the adaptability of content and what's being taught is going to keep getting better as more and more data sets become available so that you can have the data to do the type of machine learning on to generate responses that are specific to what a person actually needs to learn," Clapperton said.

He gave the example of an AI-controlled multiple-choice test. If a person taking the test marked an incorrect answer, AI would then give them a question a bit easier to answer. If the question was answered wrong again, AI would follow with a question lower in difficulty level. When the student began to answer questions correctly, the difficulty of the questions would increase. Similarly, a person answering questions correctly would continue to get more difficult questions. This allows the AI to determine what topics the student understands least. In doing so, learning becomes personalized and specific for the student.

Of course, with any learning tool trainers and students must be open to it.

"I think the people that understand that it is a tool to help train people more effectively, and especially more scalable in a scalable way like… that's the biggest thing AI can do. Then you can create these simulations that can be done by thousands of people," Clapperton said.

And that's just what AI can do on its own. Imagine if it's paired with another technology such as virtual reality.

Clapperton says AI has a big role to play in terms of VR training. AI can be used to make better training experiences by collecting data about each experience. That's just the tip of the iceberg. It can also be used to add a communicative piece to a VR training simulation.

"You may be learning how to use a crane, but at the same time, you're talking to foreman and you're talking to other workers and you're communicating with the people on the ground as to how they want to move this material around and everything else. You're adding this whole other layer of simulation to the training, so it's not simply a matter of can you work the controls to lift something up and move it around… its are you able to communicate effectively," Clapperton explained. "The beautiful thing about AI training like that is you can you can program the AI to create challenges that they may face in the world, you know, when they're actually operating the crane. AI definitely adds that communicative, interactive layer to it and allows you to train the kind of intelligences that are really hard to train… like emotional, and social cognitive analytical."

Embracing the future of AI

Taylor says Best Buy Canada is embracing as much technology as they can get their hands on.  For instance, the company has started investing in cloud-based solution that us artificial intelligence, voice technology and machine learning.  All of these technologies, Best Buy Canada hopes, will better the employee experience.  In short, the company wants to offer self-serve experience that provides real-time information around schedules, benefits, and compensation.