Read More

Why Business and HR Leaders Should Guide AI Policy

Generative AI Will Transform the American Workforce. HR Professionals Should Take a Seat at the Table Before It’s Too Late.

The public debut of ChatGPT and similar products in late 2022 and early 2023 was jarring and transformative. These utterly novel platforms, which combined a chatbot interface with the capabilities of Large Language Model (LLM) neural networks, offered something fundamentally different and better than previous so-called AI products. Instead of mere process automation, consumers and businesses suddenly had access to on-demand knowledge generation.

It is hard to overstate the significance of this development. While today’s generative AI products may not constitute true artificial intelligence in a strict sense – i.e., they are not sentient and do not “think” – they are adept at convincingly mimicking human thought. This revolutionary trait marks a unique departure not only from previous AI-branded tools, but from all prior inventions that have ever been developed by human beings.

Generative AI is not an instrument for humans to wield, but a companion for humans to collaborate with that is capable of independently adding value. We do not totally control this technology; instead, this technology works with us to shape our thinking and our work. The difference between generative AI and older labor-saving tools is the difference between “do as I say” and “assist me in achieving this goal.”

5 Key AI Insights for Employers to Know

Employers were no more prepared for the advent of generative AI than anybody else. If you ask ten business leaders how companies should be using AI right now, you will get ten different answers. Meanwhile, despite this sluggish reaction, LLMs are improving at a breakneck pace. As the capabilities of these programs continue to grow, prior assumptions about the unique value of human labor are eroding before our eyes.

The potential long-term effects of AI on the labor market and human industry in general are both tantalizing and scary. Dramatic efficiency improvements, millions of jobs consolidated or eliminated, and an unknown number of entirely new career paths created from thin air – all of these are in the offing. Entire categories of mundane office work could be automated away, with many hands-on tasks and occupations eventually following suit as robotics improve.

Prior assumptions about the unique value of human labor are eroding before our eyes.

However, we are not there yet. Today, a couple of years after the initial splash of ChatGPT, generative AI technology sits in an uncomfortable transitional zone. The technology is incredibly powerful, but still has significant limitations. In the here and now, leaders have the unenviable task of figuring out how to leverage a groundbreaking technology that, in many ways, is not ready for prime time.

In the medium term, things will be quite different. Once the bugs have been eliminated and next-generation AI bots become available, businesses must be prepared to utterly upend current practices in order to accommodate their incredible potential. The optimal policy response to AI will naturally differ according to the industry, mission, and priorities of a given employer, but everyone in corporate America would do well to predicate their actions on the following key points:

1. This technology upends centuries-old beliefs about the nature of work and employment.

2. This technology is in an early stage of development and the timeline of future innovation is unknowable.

3. The risk of incorporating this technology into your business is outweighed by the potential benefits.

4. Employers who resist this technology will be overtaken by competitors who leverage it.

5. The distinction between human and AI labor will become increasingly meaningless as time passes.

This historic technological advancement is not something that disinterested employers can opt out of. Like it or not, generative AI will have an enormous impact on all elements of business operations, include those of human resources. Employers who recognize this reality and proactively work to meet the moment will be better-positioned than those who stick their head in the sand.

There is immense pressure for businesses to do something with AI, but the “what” is not totally clear. According to a recent study by Gartner, 45 percent of employers are currently evaluating the use of generative AI in their organizations. It is critical for organizational leadership, including senior HR professionals, to devote time, energy, and resources into understanding this issue and planning for the future.

AI Policymaking and the Future of Work

When most people hear the term “hybrid workforce,” they think of employees who split their time between remote and in-person work. However, in the near future, hybrid may instead refer to workforces that consist of both flesh-and-blood humans and AI “employees.”

Even today, the chatbot interface of generative AI programs can be quite convincing – remember that Google engineer who claimed that one of the company’s language models became sentient? As this class of technology develops further, it is quite possible that AI bots in the workplace will be viewed less like products and more like colleagues.

Eventually, AI bots in the workplace may be viewed less like products and more like colleagues.

Generative AI models are becoming increasingly agentic in nature, meaning that they possess a substantial amount of agency in their actions and are capable of taking on individualistic personas. When next-generation AI avatars are deployed in corporate offices in the years ahead, they will train themselves on inputs that are unique to their particular workplaces. As these AI models learn from this real-world experience and develop idiosyncratic “personalities,” the line between human and inhuman resources will become increasingly blurred.

If human beings and agentic AI models come to coexist as something akin to peers, the discipline of HR will be forever changed. To better understand the potential impact of these developments, we’ve broken down five major areas in which AI could transform talent management, organizational culture, and the nature of work itself:

1. Experience and Merit

Job descriptions contain language that indicates required years of experience in specific industries or skill sets. Higher education and official certifications are thought to be strongly correlated with knowledge and ability. When managers promote people, they typically base their decisions on the quality of past work and the acquisition of formal expertise.

a. Should advancement decisions and employee assessments be based not only upon work done by human beings but also on work that is facilitated by humans but mostly performed by machines?
b. Will the value of traditional experience gained through hard work and formal education give way to “virtual apprenticeships,” where people can quickly pick up new expertise with the help of AI?
c. Is merit soon to be based not only on one’s own abilities but rather the strength of their AI companions?

Job descriptions, hiring criteria, and what constitutes relevant experience and education could fundamentally change in the years ahead. Managers may need to turn their conceptions of merit upside-down and be comfortable with advancing employees who aren’t conventionally qualified or who are not necessarily skilled at doing work but are skilled at facilitating it.

2. Contribution Models and Team Structures

Teams are made up of multiple people who divide labor amongst themselves. Oftentimes, employees are assessed by how well they work on a team vs. how well they work as an individual contributor. This is often viewed as a binary characteristic, and working well on a team with other people is considered to be a highly desirable trait.

a. What happens when one’s ability to “work with” AI becomes just as important as collaboration with human colleagues?
b. Will future teams be composed of both humans and highly-trained AI agents which behave in a manner similar to people?
c. How would a weakening correlation between productivity and interpersonal skills affect the workplace?

The traditional dichotomy of individual contributors vs. team players may need to be reassessed or even discarded. Much as the widespread adoption of remote work has changed conventional thinking about camaraderie in the workplace, the era of AI may require us to fundamentally change beliefs about what constitutes teamwork and whether individual contributors are really “alone.”

3. Culture, Diversity, and an Organization's Character

An organization’s culture is composed of many intangible and unique characteristics, attitudes, and traditions that accumulate between colleagues over time. Diversity is a critical ingredient in fostering a healthy culture insofar as a greater variety of backgrounds, beliefs, and ways of thinking makes for a more robust corporate “brain trust.”

a. How could productivity gains from AI influence concepts such as work-life balance, the desire for high-performing teams, and the traditional 40 hour workweek?
b. Will the addition of increasingly human-like AI bots to the workforce create a new type of diversity that isn’t captured by traditional DEI&B models?
c. What happens when the behavior of AI bots becomes so lifelike that they develop personalities that are difficult to distinguish from humans? Could they begin to shape the culture of an organization in the same way that people do?

When sufficiently sophisticated AI bots become integrated into working life, it could feel as though many new “people” are suddenly working on our teams. This development may necessitate changes in how we think about diversity, how we understand the concept of culture, and a reconsideration of whether an organization’s character is composed of solely human inputs.

4. Performance and Development

Structured performance reviews are a longstanding mechanism for assessing the talent of existing employees and the value they add to an organization. Typically, this consists of one’s manager or another senior employee manually developing some sort of performance criteria and assessment mechanisms for an employee to complete. Employers with sufficient resources will often make an active effort to invest in employees who wish to further their skills and advance their careers.

a. Why not have AI develop performance criteria and assessment mechanisms, conduct performance reviews to test knowledge and aptitude, and suggest feedback and next steps?
b. How could hyper-personalized learning and development programs based on real-time AI analysis of employee performance transform career growth?
c. Could AI bots that work with human employees be evaluated in the same way that people are, and could conducting evaluations of humans and AIs together become a normal practice?

Managers may need to become comfortable with the idea of sharing employee oversight duties with machines that are, in many respects, more capable than they are. Honest assessments of skill and performance, which are inherently less likely to trigger an emotional response when coming from a bot rather than a human, could become standard in white-collar organizations very quickly. AIs acting in a mentorship capacity have a tremendous amount of potential when it comes to turbocharging young professionals and shaping career growth.

5. Leadership and Hierarchy

Leadership is typically considered to be a skill set squarely in the domain of humans. Explicit and implicit hierarchies are everywhere in human society, including in our offices. It is often believed that good leadership hinges not just on measurable knowledge and experience, but on ineffable qualities and personality traits that are conducive to marshalling many people to effectively work towards a common goal.

a. What if traits conventionally associated with good leadership, like being a good listener and providing constructive feedback, can be augmented by AI bots that “sit in” on conversations between managers and their subordinates?
b. How would leadership be changed by the presence of an AI that “double-checks” or audits the decision-making of highly-ranked employees?
c. Would human employees ever accept an AI acting as their boss?

The structure and hierarchy of most organizations date from an analog age. This state of affairs makes little sense in a world populated by AI bots with superhuman capabilities in some aspects of management. The value of human leadership will not go away entirely, but human leaders may need to cede ground to bots in some key areas. In the near future, bots may directly intervene in executive decision-making, and leadership training may be facilitated by highly-trained bots.

Why Is It Urgent for People Leaders to Get Involved With AI Now?

Generative AI will quickly snowball into an enormous and inescapable phenomenon. Employers need to look ahead and understand that the chatbots we see today are the forerunners of much more powerful programs that will utterly transform the way that work is done.

This is not an abstract, sci-fi problem to be faced by future generations. If you are in the workforce today and are not planning to retire in the immediate future, this will affect you and the company you work for.

It is important to have voices in the room who will examine AI problems from a workforce perspective and advocate for the interests of employees.

It is particularly important for people leaders to become involved in this issue now, while generative AI is still in its infancy. AI is not solely a technology issue – it stands to radically alter the way that human beings organize themselves, interact with each other, and cooperate to achieve common goals. Because of this, experts who specialize in the way that human systems work must take a seat at the table. In a workplace setting, this means HR professionals and other people leaders.

As the impact of AI begins to manifest itself in our offices, it is important to have voices in the room who will examine the problem from a workforce perspective and advocate for the interests of employees. HR leaders should not be afraid to muscle their way into conversations on AI policymaking that are often dominated by software engineers and tech executives. Their participation is necessary for businesses to think about AI holistically, accept the enormous challenges that it poses to the status quo, and successfully adapt their organizations to a rapidly shifting reality.

Modern employers want to leverage the power of AI in an ethical and responsible manner. Learn more about how OneDigital is strategically investing in cutting-edge technologies to drive progress for our partners and clients.