The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Last month, I explored an application of artificial intelligence (AI) that has made my job easier: machine transcription. This month, I look at another use of AI that raised a serious question: What would happen if I had to rely on the skills and choices of a machine to get my job in the first place?

Smart Code
It’s a situation that, once upon a time, would have been pondered in the science fiction stories of Isaac Asimov or Philip K. Dick. Today, it is reality. As AI infiltrates every­thing from modeling climates to washing dishes, we must assess whether it brings benefits or sounds alarms.

The latter is what happened when I began reading about the use of AI to screen job candidates. Certainly, I can under­stand the benefits such automation offers companies. But on the flip side, the idea of an imper­sonal process in which my potential value is determined by “smart code” is not appealing. I also worry that diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts—something I feel requires human intuition—might be under­mined by automation.

Personal Bias
That was my first reaction. But given what I know about machine learning and un­con­scious bias, I wanted to ask experts about the true pros and cons of the technology. The results of that start on page 38 and, for me, were eye opening. The developer of one such system, Arik Akverdian of CVC Inc., explained the inner workings of this new way of identifying, communicating with, and analyzing potential job candidates. That helped me understand the issue from the tech angle.

What helped me see the human angle was talking to Nancy Ngou of EY Advisory and Consulting Co. Ltd. She is also a member of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) Board of Governors and a champion for D&I. During my years as editor-in-chief of this publication, working with the ACCJ on advocacy D&I, women in business, and marriage equality, Ngou has come to be some­one who I know can help me better understand these issues. The responses I got from her about AI and candidate screening were not what I expected, and they really changed my thinking.

Lingering Concerns
Am I completely onboard? No. But I feel much better than I did. In reality, such appli­cations of AI are going to happen, whether we like it or not. The benefits outweigh the risks, but I’ve read enough science fiction to know that dystopian outcomes can spring from well-intentioned ideas.

When it comes to AI and machine learning, we have some control over the results based on what we feed the system. If we teach machines to look past our own biases, maybe together we can create a fairer workplace that helps businesses thrive. We just need to remember that automation must be not simply for the company, but for the people

Christopher Bryan Jones is Editor-in-Chief of The ACCJ Journal. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, he has lived in Japan since 1997.