Monday, 30 September 2019


HR experts have found a new, trendy use for artificial-intelligence. They ‘re enhancing the precision of recruitment by getting applicants for jobs to video themselves whilst responding to a set of pre-prepared questions. The algorithm then analyses facial expressions for honesty, resourcefulness and, resilience or whatever qualities are deemed important. No, this is not a joke. Unilever and other big companies are taking it really seriously.

The theory underlying this is  that human beings’ judgement is too biased and unreliable and is better replaced instead by a kind of consistent, artificial …. stupidity.

Here’s my problem. We are all that we have. Our humanity is what makes is good or bad but above all remarkable. We are put on earth to play our part in a role of the drama called life. My favourite new way of describing the HR leadership function is not the increasingly popular “Head of People” title but that used by a Canadian company who’d decided it was the quality of people they hired and the way they interrelated that would define their success.  They used the term “Casting Director”.

The difficulty of hiring people relates to how they fit together as a team not them individually. Unity of purpose and the ability to collaborate is more relevant than it’s ever been.

Which brings me to the uneasy scenes we’ve recently seen in the House of Commons. It’s pretty obvious that compromise and the bringing-together-of-people are not probable achievements there at present.

It’s also evident that big, blustering, bonking Boris (no offence Mr Johnson but you must admit the AI algorithm would have you marked out as a bit of a  buffoon) has been briefed to act the role of disruptor to flummox and enrage the “remainers.” It’s working insofar as their barely restrained violence does their preferred position of calm unification  no good.

But where has the role of satire gone? Why is no one laughing at big, bad Boris?

The best joke  I heard was from Emily Thornberry who, at the Labour Party Conference, described her recent cycling accident. As she lay bleeding on the road the paramedics attending her asked a series of questions like “what day of the week is it?”, “How many fingers am I holding up?”

She was doing fine until the third question ”who’s the Prime Minister?” She told them to rush her to hospital as she was suffering serious delusions “it surely can’t be… Boris Johnson!”

Homo Sapiens, as Yuval Noah Harai says in his book “Sapiens”, got us where we are today through our gregariousness and ability to work together. Put AI or social sabotage like Boris is using into the mix and what has taken centuries to achieve will be compromised and lost.

It was that jovial attack-dog Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey who used the phrase “Silly Billy” in the 1970s

“Silly” is a good word for misused artificial-intelligence or misused leadership. Not “wicked” just plain silly. Silly Boris.

“Start-ups Pivots and Pop Ups” by Richard Hall and Rachel Bell is published on October 3rd by Kogan Page. The antidote to doubt and gloom.

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