Job Board Journalist: AI & the Question of Timing, Part I

Peter Weddle

The debate rages on. The proponents of AI and machine learning technology vs. the naysayers. The true believers vs. the Chicken Littles hollering at the sky. Those who claim that artificial intelligence and machine learning will replace recruiters vs. those who think there are some things only a human can do. And, those who think AI will eliminate the need for recruiters and thus the need for a talent acquisition solutions industry vs. those who say the Bard got it right – it’s all just sound and fury, signifying nothing.

I’ve spent the last two years conducting research on this topic for a book I’m writing. I’ve read literally hundreds of blog posts, magazine and journal articles and books and talked to many on both sides of the debate. What I’ve found is that the impact of this technology on recruiters and the industry that supports them isn’t as simple as some would have us believe. It isn’t yes or no, but how … and when.

Currently, the debate is based on an assessment of what the technology can and can’t do among the tasks typically performed by a recruiter. There are some who huff and puff that today’s state-of-the-art isn’t even really artificial intelligence. They conflate the application of machine learning – which is a component of AI, however it’s defined – and artificial general intelligence or AGI.

The former is today’s state-of-the-art. The technology learns by absorbing huge amounts of data and then fitting a curve to the most likely answer to a question. It’s intelligence based on probabilities. As Judea Pearl, the guy who invented the algorithms behind this capability puts it, if someone travels to Africa and returns with a fever and body aches, a smart machine will conclude that they have malaria.

A human who could make such a judgment would probably be called a doctor and certainly deemed intelligent. So, whether one describes it as artificial or not, it’s definitely the expression of intelligence in a machine, as well. It’s also what most of today’s chatbots and intelligent recruiting assistants do. They reason by association, and those associations are learned.

This level of artificial intelligence is by no means a trivial technological advance. It is not, however, artificial general intelligence. That’s the holy grail in AI research, and we still have a long way to go to achieve it. AGI means that a machine can not only reason by association, it can perform causal reasoning, as well.

Casual reasoning involves a bushel basket of functions that are thought to be distinctly human. One, for example, is the ability to ask and answer counterfactual questions – how would things change if conditions were altered in some way. In recruiting, it might involve answering this question: if a candidate has a potentially valuable skill but one that is not specified in the requisition for an opening, should they be considered qualified for the job?

Similarly, causal reasoning also includes the ability to be introspective – to imagine what might have happened if something had been done differently. In recruiting, it could involve assessing the outcome of hiring the applicant rated number two for an opening after the number one applicant joined the company and performed poorly on-the-job.

When machines achieve the ability to engage in such complex analyses (using what we humans call intuition and wisdom), they will be able to do everything a human can do and because of their computational power, do it better. What’s holding them back? Causal reasoning requires a lot of data AND a model of reality. As Pearl puts it, “If a machine does not have a model of reality, you cannot expect the machine to behave intelligently in that reality.”

When will we humans create such a model and gift it to machines?

Singularity University convened a meeting of some of the world’s leading academicians, research scientists and futurists and asked them that question. Their median response was the year 2040.

Pearl is even more aggressive. As he puts it, “The first step, one that will take place in maybe 10 years, is that conceptual models of reality will be programmed by humans.” After that, machines will take over the development, and the models will cascade into widespread usage.

What does that mean for recruiters and recruiting solutions companies?

The ability of machines to perform uniquely human functions – to apply sophistical causal reasoning – isn’t the stuff of science fiction. It isn’t so far off in the future as to be irrelevant to those of us working in the field of talent acquisition right now. It is, in the flow of human history, a blink of time’s eye away. And, we need to be prepared for that.

Food for Thought,

P.S. Part II of this topic will appear in next week’s Job Board Journalist. Oh, and by the way, my book Circa 2118: What Will Humans Do When Machines Take Over will be out in about 6 weeks. You’ll find it listed first in the TAtech Bookstore and then later on Amazon.

TAprose and Job Board Journalist by Peter Weddle are brought to you by TAtech: The Association for Talent Acquisition Solutions.

Mark Your Calendars! TAtech’s 2018 events include:

• February 12-13, 2018 Scottsdale, Arizona USA: The TAtech Leadership Summit on AI/Machine Learning in Talent Acquisition – the only conference totally focused on the capabilities and impact of AI/ML/NLP in recruitment. See you next year!

• March 13-14, 2018 Dublin, Ireland: TAtechEurope 2018 – the premier event for recruitment advertising and technology thought & business leaders in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. See you next year!

• April 18-19, 2018 Las Vegas, Nevada USA: The TAtech Spring Congress & Meetup – a unique conference designed to maximize opportunities for B2B networking, trending topic discussions and the exploration of partnerships and business opportunities. See you next year!

• June 5-6, 2018 Minneapolis, Minnesota USA: The TAtech Leadership Summit on Programmatic Ad Buying – the only conference for both publishers and advertisers that is totally focused on the technology and applications of programmatic ad buying for talent acquisition. See you next year!

• September 26-27, 2018 Bourbon Street New Orleans, Louisiana USA: The TAtech Fall Congress & World Job Board Forum – the Global Economic Forum of recruiting, this event brings together thought & business leaders from job boards and all other talent acquisition technology solutions companies around the world.

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