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The AI revolution – Will it impact HR?

We have been learning about the theory of evolution since the 19th century. It’s with no doubt the world we live in today is not the same as it was a decade ago.

With the introduction of the artificial intelligence (AI) revolution, it is fair to say, we are moving into a new stage of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. The BBC’s Panorama episode titled “Could a Robot Do My Job?” has left many asking if this really is a short-term possibility, rather than something in the distant future.

Whilst some are worrying about the threat of dangerous artificially intelligent machines, recent research has shown there are more pressing matters: mass unemployment. Having taken over many blue-collar jobs, machines are now getting smarter and more efficient, so much so that they are starting to take over white-colour jobs as well.

Over the last 15 years, at least 800,000 jobs in the UK alone have been lost to automation, mostly within manufacturing but also many jobs including routine tasks within the front and back office (think automated call handling, the post room and cashiers to name a few). HR departments have embraced the continuous advances in information technology, using it to their advantage to deliver a more tangible and strategic value to organisations. The key appears to be that HR has still maintained the ‘human’ element of the job.

Research conducted by Bersin shows that HR departments have continuously been adapting to using advanced analytical tools and programmes to look at vast amounts of employee, customer, and transactional data. Over the past decade we have seen how technology has revolutionised the way we do business, computers have now simplified the tasks of processing and analysing large data sets, and have proven to be an invaluable aid to HR managers, from payroll processing to employee self-service.

The first seeds of AI are already sown with machines now running a futuristic hotel in Japan which welcomed its first guests recently. The robotic staff is said to run 90 per cent of the hotel’s operations, with only 10 per cent handled by the hotel’s human employees. As AI continues to dominate certain industries, numerous businesses are extending their use of automation to improve operational processes and efficiency. The new revolution of smarter and more powerful robots will continue to replace current jobs but most importantly, will also create whole new sectors.

The potential benefits of implementing a digital workforce are tremendous. Firstly, organisations can ensure work is done around the clock, eliminate human error and reduce human dependency to save costs and drive revenue. Secondly, embracing new ways to create higher levels of process efficiency for outdated operational models will increase competitive advantage and create new business models.

However, whilst there is a lot of fear that soon machines will take over, there is still the consideration that there are some things only humans can do. For professions such as HR, the empathy, soft skills, intuition and EQ still remain (for now) only within humans, so it will be extremely difficult for robots to successfully replace HR professionals.

Like HR, other industry sectors that depend on the ‘human touch’ like healthcare and education have managed to incorporate new technological advances and use them to complement current human activities to drive positive advancements for the employee, the patient or society at large. Emerging nanotechnologies accompanied with AI have allowed professionals in the health sector to increase workplace safety. Even though robots are able to work around the clock and do the same tasks repeatedly without any errors, humans still have to monitor and elucidate problems if something goes wrong. In this sense, automation does have its limits and robots just can’t do it all.

Data accumulation and analytical capabilities by intelligence automation is the real benefit to many professions. Companies have enhanced their ability to process big data and forecast the rapidly changing demands and expectations of their markets - what would have previously taken data analysts weeks to process can now be done in minutes; allowing people more time to work on the insights the data may provide. Companies will now have to connect their employees with the relevant information and AI will continue to provide better complex designs, functions and more advanced quality service and safety in order to help humans in their daily operations.

Research by Deloitte has recently revealed that technology has created more jobs than it has destroyed in the last 144 years – a testament to humanity’s skills in adapting to survive and thrive. At this stage, technological innovation has meant that fewer humans are being deployed as sources of muscle power and are more engaged in jobs involving the nursing and care of others. You might be left asking yourself, what does this mean for HR professions?

So, one thing is for certain, HR needs to continue to embrace the technological changes as new HR technology will only free up more time and resources for you to add even greater value to your organisation.

Duncan Miller, UK Marketing Manager, Lumesse

Image Credit: Shutterstock / Kentoh