As we move further into the 21st century, the use of big data, machine learning, artificial intelligence, robotics, and automation is more prevalent every day. These changes have broad implications for society, for organizations, recruiting and HR professionals. Things are moving quickly!
Here are a few ethical questions for consideration:
- As part of a machine learning project, an engineer provides training set data with the inherent bias of the engineer. This is unlikely a deliberate or malicious effort - the engineer didn’t realize that their worldview is biased vs. someone from another culture or ethnicity. As a result, the machine learning algorithm develops a model that incorporates the bias of the engineer. What is the role of the HR professional in preventing or detecting this oversight?
- An engineer debugging a problem has trouble reproducing the error. The engineer has a friend who uses the product and asks the friend to try a series of steps, then the engineer goes into the back-end data, finds the friend’s identity and usage info, and helps to debug the problem. What if the engineer now uses this capability to look at the records of an ex-spouse, former employer, neighbor, or an enemy? What is the role of the HR professional?
- A new investment and technology breakthrough allows a company to replace workers with a new automated process. After a successful initial pilot, the program is set to expand to impact 10 percent of the workforce. Which workers are selected for replacement? What is the role of the HR professional in helping with the selection, potential retraining, and deployment of the new technology?
- A new customer-targeting algorithm is deployed to increase web sales. The process incorporates web data as well as in-person store visit data and GPS tracking. Several employees feel strongly that this is going too far and invading the privacy of the customer and threaten to quit. The company defends the practice as covered by the terms of service. How does an HR professional navigate these conflicting views in a way that keeps employees engaged?
As technology continues to take a bigger role in our lives, the influence will clearly be felt in the workplace. There are new ethical questions around the use of big data, biases, artificial intelligence, robotics, and automation that we have not encountered before.
May we live in interesting times!