Human-Centered AI is the Future of Talent Management

by | Jul 14, 2018 | AI in HR

Will AI eliminate my job?

It’s a clickbait title most of us are now familiar with.

In recent years we’ve been met with a wave of articles and soundbites—ranging from the realistic to apocalyptic—speculating as to whether AI will replace human jobs, take over the world, or otherwise render Us insignificant.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has even gone so far as to suggest that the volume of jobs that will be lost due to automation will create the need for a universal basic income.

A fear of new technology, and of the impact that that technology will have upon the job market is not new.

Technological developments that arose during the Industrial Revolution created public fear of mass unemployment (a fear that ultimately proved to be unfounded given the large number of new jobs these technologies created).

Yet the narratives have never felt quite so existential before this moment.

So what is different about AI that has so captured the public interest, and it seems, fear?

It seems to lie in the idea that intelligent machines will not seek to supplement aspects of our existence, but rather, replace us entirely.

Computer Scientist Subhash Kak advocates for this idea with respect to the job market in his think piece for NBC News (a piece, it is worth noting, entitled “Will robots take your job?”). The reason AI presents a greater threat to society as we know it, he argues, is “today’s AI technology aims to replace the human mind,” not simply to make industries more efficient (my emphasis).

It would be naive to ignore the reality of Kak’s argument with respect to tasks requiring learning and judgement. AI is already replacing human decision-making in industries such as transportation and manufacturing.

But are all applications of AI really aiming to replace the human mind in the workplace? And should they?

There are other views—and other technological frameworks—to be had here.

“Human-Centered AI”

In opposition to AI’s “takeover” rhetoric exists a school of thought that explicitly acknowledges the benefit of partnership between humans and intelligent machines.

Fei-Fei Li, director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab, calls this approach “human-centered AI”—a framework for guiding the development of intelligent machines by human concerns.

At a high level, the goals of human-centered AI are as follows:

  1. AI should aim to enhance human thought rather than replace it
  2. AI should encompass the more nuanced and contextual aspects of human intellect, aided by outside fields such as psychology and sociology
  3. The development of AI technology should be guided by a concern for its effect on humans

There are a number of cross-industry applications of AI that can be viewed within this partnership framework.

Take, for example, the development of robots used to reduce costs, time, and human-error during surgery, allowing doctors to focus on the more nuanced aspects of the surgical process. Or, developments of AI in agriculture, such as Blue River Technology’s “see and spray” technique for applying herbicide only where needed, saving farmers money on herbicide and delivering a more sustainable product to consumers.

But perhaps even more in contrast to the fear of a robot taking one’s job, is the increasing extent to which AI is being applied the field of talent management.

That is to say, AI is being used to actually improve the workplace and the worker experience, rather than replace the worker.

AI as a Tool for Improving the Workplace

In the past several years, we have seen an emergence of companies applying A. to problems in talent management. From Paradox.AI’s Olivia, to Beameryand Textio, its fair to say that AI is on HR’s radar in a way that it wasn’t 5 years ago.

What’s interesting about this trend is that unlike other industries with a stronghold in AI, talent management has until recently been viewed almost exclusively as a “fuzzier” aspect of the business. It is an industry built on relationships, human connections, and emotional intelligence, and yet, it is being improved with AI.

To be fair, up until now a majority of AI solutions for talent management have focused on the more tedious and error-prone tasks around candidate sourcing and evaluation (tedious + error-prone = a perfect opportunity for automation).

But there are also opportunities for AI to improve the post-hire aspects of the employee experience, and human-centric AI is the key.

As the marketing world has known for years, AI provides a unique opportunity for scaling a personalized experience. Why would you show me the same thing as everyone else, when I’m more likely to convert if you show me exactly what I want?

The same principles can be applied to the post-hire employee experience.

Employees have different skills sets and motivators. If my employer places me in an environment that is optimized for my skills and motivators, I’ll stay. If not, I’ll move on.

As the progression towards a digital workplace continues, companies also have more data about their human capital than ever before—who they are talking to, what they eat, when they’re online every day. WeWork is basing their business model around this data.

Human-centered AI can unleash this data to help talent leaders create a more personalized employee experience. It is in “fuzzier” domains like talent management where human-centered AI shines, not just for ethical reasons, but because it provides the best user experience.

At Cultivate, for example, we apply human-centered AI to personalize the leadership development experience for managers. Using digital communication data as a proxy for leadership behavior, we analyze and predict how managers’ actions are affecting their team, and offer suggestions for how to improve.

At no point do we attempt to stand in as a replacement for a manager, or a talent leader. Rather, like a real-life leadership coach, Cultivate offers tips and suggestions that a manager can choose to take, or not.

This is the kind of personal experience employees expect from their talent leaders, scaled with AI. And it doesn’t need to stop at learning and development. AI also has high-potential to impact other aspects of the employee experience, from interviewing and on-boarding to performance reviews and off-boarding.

Looking Forward

There is no doubt that AI is changing the world—and the job market—as we know it.

Industries will be disrupted. Jobs will be lost, new jobs will be created, some jobs will never be replaced.

Ethical dilemmas will be raised. They already are.

The degree of difference between aspects of human intellect and intelligent machines will become smaller.

However, with careful consideration for AI design that creates a sense of partnership between humans and intelligent machines, AI isn’t a force to be feared in the workplace, but embraced.

About Cultivate

Cultivate helps companies leverage their digital communication data with AI to extract important organizational learning and unleash leadership potential.

For more information on what we are doing at Cultivate, check out our website.


Cultivate is a digital leadership platform that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to provide in-the-moment feedback and management coaching to enterprise leaders. Beyond helping managers become more self-aware, the platform also offers nudges and tools to put that feedback into action.

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