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An intelligent debate: the future of AI at work

12 December 2017

Story by
Sarah Rice


An intelligent debate: the future of AI at work

By Roger Steare the Corporate Philosopher

As I was preparing for the recent HR World debate on the impact of Artificial Intelligence on resourcing, I decided to remind myself what the concept of “intelligence” really means. Using Google’s AI driven search engine, the following definition was delivered in a nanosecond. Intelligence is defined as ‘the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills’. I was also reminded of a number of synonyms for intelligence, most of which, even Google’s Deep Mind would struggle to demonstrate. These included ‘wit’, ‘canniness’ and ‘intuition’.

As we opened the debate, it became quite clear that while AI can perform feats of instant computation that might take any one of us years to complete with paper and pencil, it is not (yet) able to participate in a debate that included philosophical questions such as consciousness, conscience, emotion or morality. An algorithm can scan millions of CVs for key words or a chat-bot can record a stammer or a tic during an interview, but it cannot decide whether such evidence is a reliable predictor of performance in a particular job, within a particular team. Who decides if a stammer should bar someone from an interview? Who decides whether this is fair in terms of diversity and inclusion legislation? Has the leader and the team also been ‘filtered’ using this method?

The debate turned to the question of what qualities we seek in our colleagues? The irony is that as AI and robotics properly replace the human work that is repetitive, boring or dangerous, then the future of work for humans will become even more human. Whilst a prosthetic can be designed to give someone mobility, can a machine ever replace the comfort of a hug or a smile? There are other qualities of human intelligence which will prove difficult or even impossible for AI to replicate. Emotional and moral intelligence both rely on the mind-body system – the root of human intelligence. Love or shame are both intelligent responses to certain situations, but both draw on a physical reaction such as a rapid heart-beat or nausea.

As our debate continued I shared the dictum of Peter Schutz, a former chairman of Porsche, who asked his team to ‘hire character, train skill’. As resourcing professionals with or without algorithms, what is the balance today between the two? What should it be? Are we simply dazzled by ‘shiny new tech’ and are we therefore looking for any question for it to answer?

My reflections on this debate are that artificial intelligence in resourcing or in any other task can be both a force for good or evil. But it will require the compassion and courage of human intelligence to decide.

 – Prof. Roger Steare, The Corporate Philosopher


Since 2002 Roger has designed and delivered high performance, high integrity leadership, culture and ethics programs, for Barclays, BP, Citi, HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group, Nationwide Building Society, NHS Trust boards, Openreach and RBS. He is also an experienced Board and Executive Coach and Advisor and has designed and delivered CPD programs for the ACF, EMCC and ICF. Roger is a leading executive educator with appointments including Visiting Professor in the Practice of Organizational Ethics at Cass Business School; Educator at FT | IE Corporate Learning Alliance; and a faculty member of Duke Corporate Education. Roger is a Fellow at cross-party policy think tank ResPublica; and a Fellow at the Royal Society for the Arts, Commerce and Industry.



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