photo of Rob May of Talla on in July 2016

Here’s a glimpse into the future of AI and HR via Rob May, CEO and Co-Founder of Talla, which builds intelligent assistants.

“Artificial intelligence” is a term that is almost as misunderstood as “human resources.” HR and AI have both been hyped as strategic assets that will change the future of work, but the reality of these promises never seems to arrive. Over the next three to ten years that may finally change.

While human resources has always viewed itself as the means by which an organization maximizes the value of its most crucial asset — its people — too many actual employees view HR as “the triage unit for bad workforce practices.” HR is who you run to when a coworker is causing a problem, or there’s an issue with your employment benefits. Strategic functions never seem to enter the HR equation.

Artificial intelligence — most specifically a combination of machine learning and natural language processing — has matured to the point that it is practically useful in a workplace setting. Anyone who has ever asked aloud for Siri, Alexa, Cortana, or Google to search the internet, schedule an appointment, or order a book — and had their smart device fulfill the order — understands what this technology is capable of.

Simply put, modern AI software can understand written and spoken language far better than ever before, and AI can use that understanding to take action. Over the next three to 5 years, this technology will be applied to a number of common, repetitive administrative functions — many of which are normally tackled by HR.

As an example, if IBM’s Watson could ingest and analyze the entire Wikipedia and use it to answer Jeopardy! questions, the same principle could be used to scan the entirety of your employee insurance policies to answer common questions during your annual open enrollment period. Similarly, employee handbooks and training guides can be turned into self-updating FAQ documents with little to no direct human oversight.

Automating these tedious, commodity tasks will free up HR to finally start fulfilling its role as a strategic advisor to the organization. The clerical aspects of HR will go the way of typists and switchboard operators. (Ironically, HR will have to be more strategic about whom it hires for HR functions.) This, however, is just the beginning of AI’s potential role in human resources.

Over the next 10 years, artificial intelligence will create the analytics suite that will empower HR to become a truly metrics-driven aspect of your company. Email has been in common use for 20 years, instant messaging and social media for 10, and chat platforms like Slack have just gone mainstream — and all of them are treasure troves of unstructured employee communications. AI will eventually read and analyze these silos of information to proactively determine which common questions need answering, common complaints need to be addressed, and common tasks need a new full time employee to oversee.

AI-empowered sentiment analysis will go further, offering HR an “emotional dashboard” for their organization. Human resource staff will spot burnout from common cues and intervene before it becomes problematic. Unsung heroes who shepherd projects and processes along without obvious notice will be spotted by algorithms and earmarked for promotion. The true state of employee satisfaction — and the management communication triggers that actually affect morale — will be qualitatively evaluated to create actionable insights.

Artificial intelligence is on the verge of turning all employee communications into data, and all communications patterns into automated processes. Bots will answer common questions, complete common forms, and free human resources from administrative drudgery. Freed from the yoke of insurance enrollments and annual review proctoring, HR will have the time to strategically advise the organization. Empowered with AI analytics, human resources will be able to use that time to fine-tune the performance of the actual humans under its watch, and drive companies to new heights of employee productivity and satisfaction.

Rob May, CEO and Co-Founder of Talla

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