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AI in HR seen as inevitable -- and unstoppable

HR is preparing to embrace AI tools without knowing exactly what they will deliver or change. Attendees at the SHRM conference believe AI will, at least initially, take on routine jobs.

LAS VEGAS -- The alarm bells about AI in HR didn't ring too loudly, if at all, at a conference of HR managers.

There have been plenty of warnings about AI in HR. New York University researchers, for instance, said the people writing AI code are overwhelmingly male. They may be building tools that favor people of similar characteristics.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have cautioned the tools that can explain an algorithm's operation are nascent. Third-party audit services that can examine AI systems have yet to arrive. The algorithms may be black boxes to HR. Then, there's the ever-present worry that chatbots and automation will take HR jobs.

But at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) conference, the feeling from HR managers is if they don't adopt AI systems, they will fall behind. The questions and concerns about AI in HR won't be enough to derail it.

Steve Blackhall, HR director at ITS Logistics LLC in Reno, Nev., said he understands the AI in HR reticence, as well as its inevitability.

"It's coming, and it's something that we're going to have to embrace and find out how to be a partner with it," Blackhall said. "It's going to slowly take over what we do."

Johnny Taylor, president and CEO at SHRM, a professional HR association in Alexandria, Va., echoed Blackhall, saying the arrival of AI in HR is an inevitability.

"It's happening," he said. He argued that AI will improve human decision-making.

It's coming, and it's something that we're going to have to embrace.
Steve BlackhallHR director, ITS Logistics LLC

"The way we currently recruit is really bad. It's inherently full of bias," Taylor said. "Yes, the machine has bias. It's imperfect. The algorithms aren't perfect."

Taylor compared AI's flaws to the unconscious bias in human decision-making, especially in talent acquisition.

"All sorts of biases are coming through" in hiring, Taylor said. He added that he believes HR can work with AI systems to reduce that bias in hiring.

The concern that AI will take over HR jobs was addressed at the conference by Jeanne Meister, a founder of Future Workplace, a consultancy based in New York.

"It's not the jobs that will be displaced; it's routine tasks and activities," Meister said.

AI systems will take over a lot of the HR drudge work -- the scheduling of people for interviews, onboarding and similar routine tasks, Meister said. She cited research that shows one-in-five workers are already using intelligent assistance to handle routine chores, such as scheduling meetings.

AI "will be part of your job in the next five years, so it's not necessarily the future -- it's here," she said.

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