A series of weekly outside-the-box news stories and their implications for recruiting
“Who knew supposedly emotionless machines could be such sore losers.” That’s how a news report began its account of the behavior of an AI-powered chess robot at a recent match.
The Moscow Chess Federation sponsored the match and headlined the robot, but it wasn’t the first to pit an intelligent machine against a human. Way back in 1977, Garry Kasparov, a former World Chess Champion, had squared off against Deep Blue, an IBM super-computer, and lost.
That victory changed the world of chess forever, and perhaps the robot in the current match was feeling the pressure of measuring up. Moreover, this wasn’t just another computer, it was a full-fledged robot that sat in front of a physical game board and used a robotic arm to move its chess pieces.
The game opened without incident as both players maneuvered for advantage. After the robot made a move to capture one of the boy’s pieces, the 7-year old quickly responded by replacing it with a rook. The machine apparently hadn’t been trained for such a rapid counter and responded by grabbing the boy’s hand and, in the process, breaking his finger.
Now, the good news is that the boy wasn’t seriously injured and, in fact, he returned to finish the competition, albeit with his finger in a cast. The bad news is that the developers of the chess-playing robot hadn’t built adequate safety protocols into the design of the machine, and that oversight made it a dangerously unpredictable opponent. This time, it was a broken finger. The next time, it could be something worse.
What’s that mean for talent acquisition?
The debate about the usefulness of artificial intelligence in recruiting is over. If machines can be taught to play chess well enough to beat the best players in the world, they can be taught to do meaningful work in the recruiting process. And, they already are. From conversational AI products and AI-based sourcing tools to AI-driven CRM platforms and interviewing and assessment solutions, recruiters are using this technology to improve the efficiency of their recruiting process and upgrade the candidate’s experience as they traverse it.
As the tale of the boy in the recent chess match indicates, however, even the smartest machines can be stupid or harmful or both. For recruiters, that reality raises a serious issue. These machines are only as smart as the humans who program them and the data they use for their instruction. As we’ve seen at Google and other places, that means they can inadvertently be taught human biases and discriminate unfairly and illegally against certain cohorts of the population.
In other cases, the algorithms that power AI-based machines run for thousands and sometimes tens of thousands of lines of code and, as a result, create a logical infrastructure that’s so complex even the machines’ developers are unsure how those machines are arriving at their conclusions. These so-called “black box” machines set employers up for catastrophic outcomes that, while unintended, are no less a threat to an employer’s reputation and finances.
All of which is to say that recruiters must be smart consumers of smart technology.
They must know what they’re buying – the integrity of the algorithms and the character of the data – and how to manage the solutions on-the-job – the protocols for monitoring and improving and/or correcting their behavior over time. Some employers will have the internal resources to take on such tasks, while others will rely on external experts. Regardless of how they’re done, however, both the analyses and the oversight must be thorough and continuous. The alternative is unlikely to be a broken finger, but it could be a busted brand or a shattered candidate experience.
Food for Thought,
Peter Weddle is the author or editor of over two dozen books and a former columnist for The Wall Street Journal. He is also the founder and CEO of TAtech: The Association for Talent Acquisition Solutions. You can download his latest book – The Neonaissance – FOR FREE at OneStoryforAll.com. And, if you don't have time to read the entire book, just download a short excerpt of his inspirational message.