Will workforce intelligence enable good work?

Andrew Spence shares his thoughts on the role of artificial intelligence in the future workplace. Andrew will be taking part in a panel discussion on 8 November in the Technology and the Future of Work stream – D4 | Will automation and artificial intelligence help or hinder good people management?

As I run for the bus in the rain, I hold my phone out in front of my face and speak earnestly,

“Siri, what time is the United match tonight!?”

I did a Masters in Cognitive Science and Artificial Intelligence (AI) many years ago and the inter-disciplinary questions came from quite different angles. Ranging from the engineers, how do we build face recognition systems, the psychologists, how do we process speech, to the philosophers, will computers ever have feelings?

Today, there is more emphasis on the engineering success from the AI tools that we use every day, from film recommendations on Netflix to using google translate.

As we apply pattern recognition tools to our huge data sets, I think we now have an unprecedented opportunity to learn about ourselves.

Artificial Intelligence has an obvious ‘name problem’ – to test this, ask people at work or a psychology conference to define ‘intelligence’ and you will get hundreds of answers, although I’m sure Siri knows. Call something ‘intelligent’ and we also get some cutesy anthropomorphism, applying human qualities to mere machines.

The way to look at AI is a continuation of the general automation trend of higher processing speeds, and smarter algorithms. Natural language processing, pattern recognition and machine learning all can solve specific problems, including in the workplace.

AI comes into its own in recruitment where to be successful, at scale, we need to use a broad range of data that might include past work performance, current team dynamics, social media behaviour, personality and even biometric data. Pattern recognition can then spot causal relationships in the data that will be missed by us humans with all our preconceived ideas and biases.

As we continue on this automation journey, I expect most ‘people management activities’ to be carried out by employees enabled by workplace technology. Employees will use tools that combine data and robust predictive models to make better decisions.

Projects and tasks will be matched on digital work platforms, individuals will use coaching tools to improve their insight and performance. ‘Work’ itself will be redefined and carried out by a broader set of people, networks, contractors, augmented humans, robots and automated systems.

If we are to gain insight on our own behaviours, then this also applies to how our organisations work too. New data-based insights and tools will challenge our concepts of ‘the job’, ‘the firm’ and ‘HR’.

We cannot talk about the future of work, and good work, without discussing what kind of society we want to live in – what’s the point of sparkling technologies embedded in a shoddy society?

And for HR, we will need people strategists, workforce technology experts, organisational experts, behavioural scientists and performance coaches. As many of our processes get automated away, there will be a continued need for more evidence-based decision making, hypotheses testing and critical thinking.

HR should seize the opportunity to learn new skills, rethink people management, lead the changes and design the future.

I will be at the CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition for both days. Let me know your thoughts in person, or on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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