Artificial intelligence refers to computers or computer-controlled machines that can simulate human intelligence in various ways. These machines can range from a laptop or cellphone to computer-controlled robotics. Software programs, which give directions to control the behavior of the machine, are specialized to mimic human intelligence and capabilities. The coupling of hardware and this software brings about artificial intelligence.
AI is being used in multiple ways in today's workplaces, often focusing on the integration of human thought and innovation with the patterns AI can find within large amounts of data.
HR professionals were early adopters of AI, using talent acquisition programs to source, recruit, evaluate and communicate with candidates with great efficiency. Work simulations are utilized for training, and chatbots are deployed to support employees in learning, performance evaluation, benefits enrollment and more. Generative AI is being used to create content in almost all areas of HR.
It's helpful to know of two prominent programming techniques being used in AI that are commonly referred to: natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning.
NLP is a branch of AI focused on giving computers the ability to comprehend text and spoken words in the same way humans can (think virtual assistants like Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa or chatbots).
Machine learning is the branch of AI concerned with the use of data and algorithms (a set of step-by-step instructions and rules) to imitate the way humans learn and continue to learn through experience. IBM's Watson, who won on "Jeopardy," used both machine learning to calculate probabilities of a correct answer and NLP to respond using text-to-voice technology.
Employee support and assistance
Virtual assistants and chatbots are computer programs that not only provide information but learn to recognize contextual patterns to provide better responses over time. These programs simulate written or spoken conversation in lieu of human interaction. Many of us have interacted with them when using an online customer service chat feature that has the feel of chatting with a human when, in fact, it's AI.
Google Assistant and Microsoft's Cortana are virtual assistants used in the workplace to read texts and e-mail aloud, offer reminders to follow up on e-mail, schedule meetings, and find time in your schedule for focusing on certain tasks.
Chatbots are being used by HR in numerous ways, including in helping employees find company policies or benefits information; implementing wellness programs; engaging with job candidates during the recruitment process; and supporting employee learning and development by recommending courses, tracking goals, sending reminders and answering frequently asked questions.
AI is everywhere
While there are some concerns about automation replacing human workers, AI is most successful when coupled with a human touch—or at least some human oversight. AI will likely play a large role in the future of work, but rather than replace employees, AI technology will change what type of work employees perform.
The reality is that AI is all around us, and its applications and usage will continue to grow. The following are just a few additional examples of how AI is commonly being used daily.
Content creation: Generative AI, such as OpenAI's ChatGPT and Google's Bard, allows users to ask questions in a conversational manner to find answers or to create or edit written content. For example, a manager might ask the bot to write an employee recognition letter, or a recruiter might prompt it to draft a job description. While the output from generative AI programs can be impressive, human review and final editing is almost always necessary.
Spam detection: Most employers are likely using AI's text classification abilities to scan e-mail and identify text patterns that indicate spam attacks. Reviewing any junk folder will show how much of this e-mail is weeded out by these programs on a daily basis.
Machine translation: Multinational companies use this technology to quickly translate e-mail, presentations and other documents into multiple languages to enhance internal communication. Following global industry developments through the translation of news releases, advertising campaigns and patents is another useful application. Where more attention to specific nuances are needed, human translators are still required.
For online retailers, machine translation allows product reviews to be translated instantly to help consumers decide on purchases. Entire websites can also be translated into another language with the click of a button for ever-increasing access.
Sentiment analysis: Also known as opinion mining, this AI technique analyzes large amounts of text to determine if the data is positive, negative or neutral. For example, companies may use sentiment analysis to review social media posts and online reviews to inform marketing and product development.
Text summarization: This technique extracts key information from original texts to create easily consumable summaries. Online news outlets and news aggregate apps use it to provide brief summaries for users to consume information quickly, and research databases use it provide abstracts of dense material.
Robotics: Not all robots use AI, such as those long used in manufacturing to complete repetitive tasks. More and more AI robotics are entering the workplace, however, as this field continues to grow. Examples include:
- Delivery robots (self-driving vehicles) that navigate streets autonomously, delivering packages and food to customers.
- Security robots that patrol and scan areas, collect video evidence, shine a light, and give audio warnings when appropriate.
- Recycling robots that detect differences in materials and make sorting decisions at high speeds.
- AI-based drones that identify, record and analyze objects on the ground.