Let’s Talk Ethics: Are Canadian HR Departments Ready to Transition to Automation through AI?
Robots, computers that make decisions for humans, glasses that create a virtual world and allow us to stay immobile all day; the term artificial intelligence tends to send a chill down one’s spine. Hollywood movies and fiction novels sure have marked our minds, leaving us with the impression that artificial intelligence will alter what it means to be human, but is that really the destiny of this (not so) new development? In a weeklong trip to London, England, D-TECK’s CEO Martin Cloutier and CTO Félix Roberge represented the Quebec delegation at the London Tech Week and the CogX event, during which they sought more insight on the development of AI and the questioning process revolving around the future of this technology. We invited them for a chat on the future of AI, the European market’s perspective on this topic, and what it means for the future of HR, both for those intrigued by this subject, and those fearing science fiction’s prophecies.
D-TECK: Artificial intelligence is a very broad topic, with not very many people are familiar with its existence and meaning. Where does the desire for work on AI stem from? Is it more a need for society to grow, or is it an opportunity to grow faster and better?
Martin Cloutier (MC): To get straight to the point, AI comes from both needs and opportunities. On one end, over the course of the last fifteen years or so, the world has stored and accumulated so much data that was not available prior to that timeline, and this data possesses so many indicators and truths that we are not aware of yet. On the other end, there is a need in the financial, health and human resources sectors, as well as many other sectors, to automate certain laborious tasks that can be better handled by a machine.
Félix Roberge (FR): The processing powers of AI can help develop solutions much faster for very important issues such as cancer and other diseases. Specifically, for the human resources sector, AI can help manage labour shortage issues and compensate for other issues by using predictive analytics to have the right people sit in the right chairs. Predictive analytics take all the data we’ve accumulated over time to point out patterns and help make better decisions. Humans have always tried to forecast the future, such as weather, economics and much more. Now we have access to tools that assist us in making those predictions with more accuracy.
MC: Another very important point is that AI can automate, and thus decrease the amount of time devoted to, the more technical part of HR’s talent acquisition mandate (which can be very demanding and laborious), and let humans take care of the more “human” tasks such as coaching and interventions, as well as mobilization and retention, since that cannot be handled by AI alone. It allows humans to focus on the most important parts and invest efforts in the right places.
D-TECK: What are some elements you noticed during your trip to London that make their approach to AI different from the North American approach?
MC: One of the most impressive elements is how London has dedicated a lot of attention and resources to the field of AI. Their questions and reflections are different, and their concern for ethics is far more present. There are many discussions as to how data is used, and who is responsible for consent and actions using that data. They talk about educating the user to make sure they know what their data will be used for and where it will be shared. It’s about the ability to say yes or no, and remaining the owner of the data, whether on a personal level or a corporate level, without being blind to the terms and conditions. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a hot topic of conversation, since it regulates the uses of data in Europe.
FR: Some people hide behind cell phones, but the truth is that people are responsible for what they put online. To be able to access free wi-fi in a restaurant or public place, we give a part of ourselves by sharing data with the person who controls the point of access. So, it’s not really free. Data holds so much value; we get to know purchasing habits, behavioural statistics, not just demographic data from it. At the end of the day, it gives us a better representation of the person than, for example, a passport or a driver’s license. It changes marketing, and competition between companies. Also, there are a few trends like facial recognition and game-based assessments coming to the market, but it’s not available as a service yet.
The big debate is really what defines the process of humanizing AI projects, and not removing the human factor in industries to replace them with AI. Specifically in HR, yes, artificial intelligence will change the industry; it will replace some jobs, it will create new jobs. More importantly, it will provide the tools to place the right people in the right seats and allow people to contribute in a way where we can maximize the impact of the human contribution. It’s much more of a reorganization than abolition of talent and potential.
D-TECK: How do we regulate AI and define its rules? What defines the ethics and what industries are doing with AI?
FR: In terms of the data itself, there is a strong movement for the anonymization of data, that separates identity from behaviour. It’s a constant battle, because the risk of identity is fraud, whereas behaviour is not as much of a risk. It’s the equivalent of separating your bank account number from the way you spend your money. There was a big difference between the mentality people had during the London Tech Week and the C2 event that was held recently; people here don’t have the needed conversations and that causes some people to fear AI and let imagination take over. However, there are also agreements like the GDPR and the recent Montreal agreement that help define the role and the future of AI. Even though there are still research and work to be done, it’s really comforting that people are conscious of the possibilities of AI and that the effects of their efforts are crossing the pond.
In North America, there was a recent agreement signed in Montreal called the Montreal Declaration for the Responsible Development of Artificial Intelligence, where 10 principles were agreed upon to nurture, yet create ethical boundaries for, the development of AI (see below). As Felix said, there is still much work to be done, but milestones are being achieved and the possibilities of how artificial intelligence can improve our modern-day processes are endless.
- Respect for Autonomy
- Protection of Privacy and Intimacy
- Democratic Participation
- Diversity Inclusion
- Sustainable Development
What is D-TECK's view on the use of artificial intelligence?
As organizational psychologists who are members of a professional order, we acknowledge the utmost importance of the way we treat data. Confidentiality, transparency and consistent communication represent the founding ethics of our interventions. We believe that by acting with transparency and honesty with the candidates who are evaluated, as well as the organizations who accept to share their data with us, we can reassure all parties involved. D-TECK's mission is to democratize access to organizational psychology in order to create a positive impact on the daily lives of individuals, teams and organizations. All our decisions regarding the use of data are governed by this mission.