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The End of the “Ain’t It Cool” Era of AI Development

By Peter Weddle, Founder & CEO TAtech

For the past seventy-five years, we’ve been heads-down working on AI, and now this “ain’t it cool” era of its development is drawing to a close. Obviously, there will continue to be important advances in the capabilities of artificial intelligence, but going forward, it will be equally important to focus on the central dynamic of the technology’s new phase: the “so what?” era of AI development.

Many historians in the field of science credit Christopher Strachy’s 1951 checking-playing program as the first true AI development. Others contend that the first was actually a program developed by John McCarthy and Marvin Minsky at the Dartmouth Summer Research Project on Artificial Intelligence in 1956. Regardless of who gets the credit, however, the point remains, we’ve been tinkering with this stuff for a long time.

As always happens with the development of any emergent technology, this period was characterized by a fascination with what we could get AI programs to do. From outplaying a grand chess master in 1988 to the content and image creations of ChatGPT in 2023, we’ve thrilled to each announcement of an ever-higher level of machine intelligence.

But that era is now drawing to a close. To put it bluntly, we now take artificial intelligence’s unending development for granted. It may momentarily captivate us with some new capability, but we no longer stand in awe of it. We know AI will continue to mature, and we expect it to do so. And, that shift in our outlook transforms our assessment of the technology. We want the stuff to be helpful, or to put it more felicitously, we are now in the early days of the “so what?” era of AI development.

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The “So What?” Era of AI Development

This new era in AI development will see people shift from a single to a binary focus. Yes, of course, they will still want (and need) to stay abreast of what the technology can do, but now their focus will also involve a consumer-like evaluation of how it will benefit them. In effect, the individuals and companies developing and/or applying AI will have to be able both to field a viable product and to demonstrate in a convincing way that it makes life or work better for the end user.

What does that mean for those organizations that are acquiring AI-based assets in the talent acquisition field?

In order to achieve a worthwhile outcome from the introduction of an AI-based product, employers will have to abandon such puerile goals as “enabling recruiters to do what they do best,” and move instead to specific, quantified performance improvement objectives. Moreover, those improvements will almost always have a primary and secondary impact, and both should be measured. For example, exactly how much time will be saved with the introduction of such a product AND what exactly will the saved time be used for to upgrade the recruiting team’s performance?

It's that second leg of the evaluation process that is often overlooked. For the foreseeable future, AI will simply be a productivity enhancement tool. (There are other outcomes it is likely to produce, but that’s a topic for another time.) In classical economic terms, an improvement in productivity means a recruiting team will be able to do more with less (without creating burnout or retention problems among recruiters). “Less” is easy to measure – its unit are time, staff and maybe money. “More,” on the other hand, is … well, it’s more slippery.

If “more” means an AI-based tool will free up time for recruiters to assess more candidates, then how many and what, specifically, will the organization gain from those additional assessments? Or, if it will allow recruiters to assess candidates more thoroughly, how will that be measured and what benefit will it produce for the company (e.g., a reduction of X in employee attrition)? The key to actually achieving the benefits of artificial intelligence is to identify and then eliminate the second and tertiary order of human unknowns. Only by focusing on the specification and achievement of those outcomes can an organization truly unleash the power of the technology.

Food for Thought,

Peter Weddle has authored or edited over two dozen books and been a columnist for The Wall Street Journal. He is the founder and CEO of TAtech: The Association for Talent Acquisition Solutions.