HR Must Understand Risks, Benefits of AI

Theresa Agovino By Theresa Agovino June 11, 2023
​From left: Anjelica Dortch, senior director of U.S. government affairs at SAP; Ken Meyer, SHRM-SCP, principal at KWM HR Consulting LLC and president of New York City SHRM; Megan Smith-Branch, deputy lead, AI Ethics and Safety Team at Booz Allen Hamilton; and Alexander Alonso, Ph.D., SHRM-SCP, chief knowledge officer for SHRM, at the SHRM Annual Conference & Expo 2023 in Las Vegas on June 11.

​Human resource leaders must educate themselves about AI so they can utilize its benefits in their work and explain to employees how it can be implemented throughout the organization, according to a panel at the SHRM Annual Conference & Expo 2023 in Las Vegas.

Understanding AI will also help HR leaders discuss the technology with their elected officials as various levels of government consider legislation to regulate the technology that's becoming more prevalent throughout the workplace and society at large.

"You don't need to become a machine learning engineer," Megan Smith-Branch, deputy lead, AI Ethics and Safety Team at Booz Allen Hamilton, told attendees at the June 11 conference session, "The Road Ahead: The Intersection of Artificial Intelligence & Workplace Policy." Smith-Branch suggested that HR professionals treat AI as a team member and think about some of their biggest challenges and how AI might help solve them.

The panels acknowledged that some employees fear the technology and worry about losing their jobs because of it.

"We are not going to be enslaved to machines. That's not the point," said Anjelica Dortch, senior director of U.S. government affairs at SAP. She said AI is a tool that can help individuals do their jobs. For example, SAP has used the technology to create job descriptions. The company is also considering how it might use AI to help educate and develop staff.

However, Dortch added, companies must be aware of the risks of using AI. For example, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently issued guidance that employers can't rely on assurances given by makers of the technology that it complies with civil rights laws. Dortch added that anyone who uses generative AI must ensure that the product it produces doesn't violate any privacy or copyright laws. Employers must also ensure their workers aren't loading proprietary information into open systems.

For example, on three separate occasions, Samsung employees in South Korea put confidential company information into ChatGPT while using it to perform job-related tasks, according to reports published in April. The employees' actions came soon after Samsung had reversed a ban on using the technology; earlier this month, the company reinstated the prohibition.

Jo Anna Lebo, vice president of HR at Lodging Dynamics Hospitality Group, a Provo, Utah-based hospital management company, said concerns about data safety and legal risks have kept her from embracing generative AI. However, she said the idea of using the technology to create job descriptions and other materials is compelling.

Likewise, Sarah Priszner, SHRM-SCP, senior HR manager at ABS, a Spring, Texas-based provider of certification services for the marine and offshore industries, said safety concerns have kept her from utilizing AI. But she also said she needs to learn more so she can fully understand the risks and benefits.

Ken Meyer, SHRM-SCP, principal, KWM HR Consulting LLC, said it is imperative for HR professionals to learn more so they can become advocates for their companies as more and more legislation about AI is considered.

In April, the Commerce Department asked the public for comments on potential accountability measures and policies to ensure that AI systems are legal, effective, ethical, safe and otherwise trustworthy. The agency said it would issue a report after examining the responses. And four other federal agencies recently pledged to collaborate closely to prevent discrimination resulting from the use of artificial intelligence and automated decision tools in the workplace.

"You need to engage with your public officials," said Meyer, who is also the president of New York City SHRM. He points out that NYC passed a law barring employers from using AI tools to make hiring and promotion decisions unless the technology is audited by an outside vendor for bias.

He said the small nonprofit health care systems he works with can't afford such audits, and that puts them at a disadvantage because they compete against large hospital systems for staff.

"We have been regulated out of using such tools," Meyer said.  



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