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Artificial Intelligence in HR: the Basics You Need To Know

Arnold Schwarzenegger is a man of the future – he was onto the potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI) way before everyone else. We’re talking about his 1984 embodiment of The Terminator of course. Once again, something that seemed possible only in science-fiction films or a very distant future, turned out to become reality. That is, the Artificial Intelligence part, not the killer- robot-with-laser-gun part, thank god.

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As with other technological developments, the HR industry wasn’t among the very first adapters of Artificial Intelligence. Slowly but surely though, awareness about AI in HR is increasing, and there has been a lot of speculation about its future potential and applications. It’s about time we had a closer look at Artificial Intelligence ourselves.


What is AI? That question seems a good starting point. A basic definition comes from Stanford researcher John McCarthy (back in 1956):

“Artificial intelligence is a sub-field of computer science. Its goal is to enable the development of computers that are able to do things normally done by people. In particular, things associated with people acting intelligently.”

A slightly more specific definition can be added to that:

“AI is an umbrella term for a number of different techniques and approaches. These include machine learning – which focuses on statistical analysis – deep learning, predictive modelling en predictive analytics.” Here you’ll find a good piece on how all of these are related to each other.

Right, at least now we know what it is we’re talking about. Within the field of AI, several distinctions can be made. In terms of the ‘intelligence’ of a system, there is the so-called strong AI, the weak AI and, what’s in a name, the in-between AI. The first type of Artificial Intelligence is aimed at truly simulating human intelligence. The second version of AI is purely aimed at getting systems to work – think of chess computers for example. The ‘in-between’ kind of artificial intelligence uses the way we humans think as a guide, but doesn’t aim to imitate it entirely. Here you can read more about those different types of Artificial Intelligence and find a few examples.

In Everyday Life

You might not be aware of it, but you’re already using AI on a daily basis. A lot. That news site you’re reading with your morning coffee? Chances are that some of the articles on it are written by artificial intelligence programs. That fantastic new series on Netflix you’ve just discovered? Probably ‘recommended’ to you by a simple AI system, based on things you’ve watched in the past. And for the iPhone users among us, let’s not forget about Siri, Apple’s version of the intelligent, digital personal assistant; another example of Artificial Intelligence. Here you’ll find some more everyday applications of AI.

To cut a long story short; there is a lot more to Artificial Intelligence than the scaremongering images of android-like robots acting like human beings. In fact, AI has been integrated in our 21st century lives for a while now, and it’s presence will only continue to grow.


Back to the HR industry now, and the use of Artificial Intelligence in it. But first it’s important to understand that, in order to create decent AI systems, you need data, lots and lots of it. Without a vast amount of information (i.e. data) it’s impossible to create algorithms that can make decisions or predictions on anything. Knowing this makes it easy to see how the HR data revolution will lead to an explosion in the use of artificial intelligence.

We’ve already seen some of the applications that Artificial Intelligence can have in HR. Think of programmatic advertising for example; the automated placement of job ads – on relevant job boards only – aimed directly at the people corresponding a specific description. Thanks to the data that has been gathered previously, the smart software is able to send these targeted job ads.

The growing use of Predictive Analytics (PA) and machine learning in HR is another example. In short, PA can be used in almost every part of HR; recruitment, retention, learning & development, and so on and so forth. Because of its wide applicability and huge potential, PA is one of -the- hot topics that keeps popping up in ‘HR tech trends for 2016’ blogs.

What about Tomorrow?

There is a lot of forecasting going on when it comes to the future of Artificial Intelligence in HR. With AI being something unimaginable from a scary science-fiction film just over 30 years ago, it seems a bit pointless to try and foresee its future now; we’re probably incapable of imagining the possibilities anyway. There are however a few themes that keep coming back:

1. Personalisation

In the HR function of Learning & Development (L&D), intelligent software will make it possible to customise employee learning. Based on past interactions and behaviour, tailor made recommendations will be made to each and every individual. Rather than a personal digital assistant, such as Siri, employees will have a personal digital coach and mentor.

2. Recruitment

This is happening already, but a lot is yet to be expected in this area. It’s becoming more and more normal for companies to use preselection tools – that use predictive analytics – in their recruitment process. Doing so gives HR professionals information about a candidate’s suitability for a certain role and supports them in their hiring decisions.

3. Automation

Again, this is nothing new, but a lot can be improved still. Manual processes, such as confirming interviews, scheduling face-to-face sessions and employee onboarding can and will be taken over by computer systems. If we take this one step further, we get to the point where a machine will be able to detect a workflow and figure out – on its own – what to do with it.

Human Intelligence

There are quite a few more ideas about how exactly AI will change the face of HR, but the above should give you the gist of things. Artificial Intelligence is not something to run away from or be scared of, it’s a pretty useful piece of technology that can make your HR life a lot easier. Keep in mind that it’s a support tool though, it’s there to help you make better decisions faster. We’ve probably only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the potential of this smart software, and in combination with our true, human intelligence, there should be great things ahead for the HR industry.

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Neelie Verlinden is the Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Digital HR Tech. She’s an experienced digital HR & HR Tech writer, speaker, and entrepreneur with an international background. She has written countless articles on all things HR technology.

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