Start-up urges caution over ‘miracle solutions’ to bias in hiring

Following the widely reported news of Tengai, the latest robot allegedly developed to remove bias from hiring processes, Juliet Eccleston, co-founder and CEO of crowdsourcing talent platform, AnyGood? has called for caution over so-called ‘miracle solutions’ to the problem of human preconceptions influencing recruitment decisions.

Furhat Robotics, an artificial intelligence and social robotics company based in Stockholm, revealed its latest creation, Tengai, last week. The robot has been under development for the last four years and is intended to accurately mimic human speech and facial expressions in order to look as similar as possible to a human recruiter.

For the last few months, the company has been collaborating with one of Sweden’s largest recruitment firms, TNG, with the goal of eventually offering candidates job interviews that are free from any unconscious bias. However, according to AnyGood? rather than superficial modifications to existing hiring practices, an overhaul of the entire hiring process is needed to level the playing field.

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Warning against the immediate rush of optimism over Tengai, Juliet commented: “While it’s extremely encouraging to see resources directed towards finding innovative solutions to the problem of bias in hiring, there are still many concerns over the use of robots and AI in the hiring process, many of which can hold true for Tengai.

“With the diversity of race, gender and ability we have in workforces today, the robot’s feature of only asking the same set of questions to all candidates, and judging them on the same set of criteria – something the company sells as an enabler of diversity, may, in fact, be hindering efforts. Unfortunately, using a process that is identical for everyone is unlikely to create an equitable system that suits the vast array of groups and individuals in today’s workforce.

“On top of this, with programming teams often male-dominated and lacking racial diversity, historic biases may be ingrained in certain AI hiring functions. While the developers of Tengai have claimed to have accounted for this, it is still a huge problem that has been seen in many different types of AI, such as Microsoft’s facial recognition technology.

“Tech should absolutely play a role in reducing the conscious and unconscious bias that we see so often these days, but in my opinion, the hiring process is the main obstacle to change. As something that has remained static for so long, without root and branch change to this, true diversity and a removal of bias cannot be achieved.’’

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