HRIntelligencer v2.05

On February 6, 2018, in HR Intelligencer, HRExaminer, John Sumser, by John Sumser
HRIntelligencer logo 544px

This issue offers 7 articles that belong in your AI bookmarks list. From a straightforward introduction to AI to a course from the father of the field, the pieces form a nice starting point. They are supplemented by a note about Amazon’s new health initiative and a bit about data portability. Both items belong on the medium term agenda for HR departments.


Big Picture


HR’s View
  • Inside Amazon’s Artificial Intelligence Flywheel. Amazon built an immense, cross-organizational AI initiative without actually having an R&D Department. This is the same strategy that girds Silicon Valley’s embrace of small startups pursuing micro-niches in AI. Interestingly, the recruiting aspects of the problem shaped Amazon’s culture by forcing it to be more open so that the larger strategy could be accomplished. 
  • Amazon Health. If you are managing a benefits function, you’ll want to follow the evolution of the venture co-founded by Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase & Co. The details are sketchy but it’s reasonable to imagine a healthcare marketplace that works just like Amazon’s other marketplaces. Here’s a good first look.
  • How to Design Social Systems (Without Causing Depression and War). “…meaningful interactions and time well spent are a matter of values. For each person, certain kinds of acts are meaningful, and certain ways of relating. Unless the software supports those acts and ways of relating, there will be a loss of meaning.” Useful reading if your HR execution includes community and collaboration.
  • Personal Data Portability. GDPR is effective on May 28th. Data portability becomes a right of EU citizens at that point. Execution will bedevil the HR Department




Quote of the Week

Chapter 7.1. Intelligence

Many people insist on having some definition of intelligence.

CRITIC: How can we be sure that things like plants and stones, or storms and streams, are not intelligent in ways that we have not yet conceived?

It doesn’t seem a good idea to use the same word for different things, unless one has in mind important ways in which they are the same. Plants and streams don’t seem very good at solving the kinds of problems we regard as needing intelligence.

CRITIC: What’s so special about solving problems? And why don’t you define intelligence precisely, so that we can agree on what we’re discussing?

That isn’t a good idea, either. An author’s job is using words the ways other people do, not telling others how to use them. In the few places the word intelligence appears in this book, it merely means what people usually mean — the ability to solve hard problems.

CRITIC: Then you should define what you mean by a hard problem. We know it took a lot of human intelligence to build the pyramids — yet little coral reef animals build impressive structures on even larger scales. So don’t you have to consider them intelligent? Isn’t it hard to build gigantic coral reefs?

Yes, but it is only an illusion that animals can solve those problems! No individual bird discovers a way to fly. Instead, each bird exploits a solution that evolved from countless reptile years of evolution. Similarly, although a person might find it very hard to design an oriole’s nest or a beaver’s dam, no oriole or beaver ever figures out such things at all. Those animals don’t solve such problems themselves; they only exploit procedures available within their complicated gene-built brains.

CRITIC: Then wouldn’t you be forced to say that evolution itself must be intelligent, since it solved those problems of flying and building reefs and nests?

No, because people also use the word intelligence to emphasize swiftness and efficiency. Evolution’s time rate is so slow that we don’t see it as intelligent, even though it finally produces wonderful things we ourselves cannot yet make. Anyway, it isn’t wise to treat an old, vague word like intelligence as though it must define any definite thing. Instead of trying to say what such a word means, it is better simply to try to explain how we use it.

Our minds contain processes that enable us to solve problems we consider difficult. Intelligence is our name for whichever of those processes we don’t yet understand.

Some people dislike this definition because its meaning is doomed to keep changing as we learn more about psychology. But in my view that’s exactly how it ought to be, because the very concept of intelligence is like a stage magician’s trick. Like the concept of the unexplored regions of Africa, it disappears as soon as we discover it.



Curate means a variety of things: from the work of vicar entrusted with the care of souls to that of an exhibit designer responsible for clarity and meaning. At the core, it means something about the importance of empathy in organization. HRIntelligencer is an update on the comings and goings in the Human Resource experiment with Artificial Intelligence, Digital Employees, Algorithms, Machine Learning, Big Data and all of that stuff. We present a few critical links with some explanation. The goal is to give you a way to surf the rapidly evolving field without drowning in information. We offer a timeless curation of the intersection of HR and the machines that serve it. We curate the emergence of Machine Led Decision Making in HR.

Read previous post:
Addicted to Certainty – HR’s Curse and Blessing

"Our brains are coded to do one thing – help us survive. Unfortunately, they still operate on 400,000-year-old software designed...