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Artificial Intelligence - Friend or Foe?

“If robots do everything what are we going to do?”

            - Kindergarten student to Kai-Fu Lee, author of AI Superpowers


I was having coffee with a friend of mine who works in the world of Artificial Intelligence, otherwise known as “AI”.  He is an engineer and inventor and views AI through lens of a world of possibility; an incredible advancement that will free humankind from tedious work and enable us to find greater meaning and purpose in our work and in our lives.  He then went on to tell me that he sits on several regional and national boards looking at the impact of AI in the business and non-profit community and he is often dismayed that instead of viewing AI with his enthusiasm, these board members approach the future with fear – fear of lost jobs and shifting industries and humans displaced and feeling lost in this new world order. 

So which view is right?

In many ways, we don’t know, but what we do know is that AI is causing disruption. For example, The McKinsey Global Institute  estimates that, compared with the Industrial Revolution of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, AI’s disruption of society is happening ten times faster and at 300 times the scale. That means roughly 3000 times the impact.

And the HR field will not be spared. I was working with a business recently that was implementing a new HR system.  As part of the software demonstration, we were shown chatbots that can handle benefits enrollment and a predictive analytics feature that analyzed the data collected from different employee touchpoints with the system (i.e. attendance, performance feedback, leave usage, salary, training) and from this data suggested the likelihood that an employee was going to leave an organization, and what motivators might encourage them to stay. I watched the faces of several of the HR team members fall and heard one whisper to another, “well, there goes my job.”

Chatbots, predictive analytics, visual recognition, machine learning – and this is just the beginning. Artificial Intelligence will change the way we work and will likely shift the type of work we do away from algorithmic tasks (following a set of instructions down a defined path that leads to a single conclusion) towards more heuristic tasks (no instructions or defined path; requires creativity and experimentation with possibilities to complete the task). From this viewpoint, work will shift away from transactional tasks to focus on work that values those attributes that are inherently human – creativity, spontaneity, empathy, compassion, love. As my scientist friend said to me “only a human can read a face and instantly know the right thing to say; we will be free from transactions to focus on relationships.”

Is the workforce ready for this shift? And as an HR professional are you prepared to assist your organization with the change that is coming? As daunting as this change may be, it is important to take steps to assist your organization and your employees:

  1. Learn all you can about the anticipated impacts of