Seeing the shift towards automation as the key to unlocking true human potential, not a threat.

AI has permeated almost every corner of modern business, and people management is no exception. From the screening process to professional development and performance management, it’s no wonder HR ranked 13th on a list of business functions most impacted by AI investment at HR Tech firm bob’s event in May. AI has been catastrophised in the media as the end of mass employment, and raised issues about how to manage this newly unemployed population. But what if we thought about automation not as deeming humans as dispensable, but as the key to unlocking our true human potential? The extra capacity created by AI could enable us to focus on, and better prioritise, the most challenging problems at hand, and escalate the trajectory of humankind infinitely.

So what does this mean for HR, the function that nurtures and manages human abilities? With robots taking over the monotonous tasks–sifting through CVs for specific requirements, doing boring paperwork and identifying certain behaviours to be rewarded–HR professionals will have more time to focus on the personal development of the workforce. This could mean HR becoming more human: by helping us to achieve our aspirations as individuals and as organisations.

However, one of the challenges faced when relying on robots to make HR decisions, is that it can worsen inequality in the workplace, by amplifying race and gender biases. Because AI learns the preferences and characteristics of a team in order to make hiring and progression decisions, when the screening for candidates in industries which are already suffering from a lack of diversity, (like tech and in higher ranking positions) it’s likely to replicate the (white, male) workforce inequalities.  In this sense, AI could be making HR less human; undoing all the progress that has been made in counteracting gender, age and racial prejudice within modern employment.

An incredibly exciting aspect of adopting AI within HR is the idea of lifelong learning. HR managers will have to continually adapt their own, and their employees’ roles around technological developments, e.g. if a chatbot is handling the basic tasks of a customer service exec (like TFL’s new Facebook chatbot), the exec can invest more time in tackling difficult problems, and be trained to spot overarching trends in customer feedback. The workforce will be constantly challenged to find new purpose, and continually learn new skills and ways of working. With this evolution of the human purpose will also come an evolution of ideas – what do we want to achieve with this new found capacity? Organisational values will be more important than ever as we make decisions to shape the future of organisations.

Besides, do we always want to be totally human in HR? AI can give us an objective view of our organisation that is otherwise nearly impossible due to social ties and inherent bias–allowing us to make smarter decisions. The real challenge is to decide when objectivity or subjectivity is needed–in order to harness the power of AI in a way that benefits our people and our organisations. People are responsible for constructing the right policies. So, in conclusion no, AI won’t take the human out of HR, it can do the opposite, but only if we use it intelligently.