Robot Recruiters? You May Have To Impress A Machine The Next Time You Interview For A Job

By  |  August 25, 2019

You may be seated across from a robot the next time you interview for a job and that’s because a recruitment company in Sweden is convinced that it may be worthwhile to actually get people to impress machines than humans, and machines could do a better job of identifying the best candidates for a position than any human would.

Swedish recruitment agency, TNG, has been working with a robotics company known as Furhat Robotics on an AI-driven robot head called Tengai since last October. The company has been carrying out tests by using the robot to conduct interviews in place of a human recruiter.

And in May this year, they got started with interviewing candidates for actual jobs with the goal of cutting out the biases common with humans in such scenarios so as to make sure only the best candidates have a shout — an encouraging example of an AI eliminating discrimination rather than amplifying it.

Furhat Robotics; a conversational AI and social robotics startup, are the developers of Tengai. The 16-inch tall robot head can be placed on the table where it rests at about eye level with a job candidate. The robot head is programmed to ask a series of interview questions while trying to mimic facial expressions and inflections common with humans.

Where human recruiters might develop biases based on ethnicity, gender, and other reservations — and maybe write off a candidate just because they don’t see eye-to-eye on lifestyle choices — Tengai remains objective as it lacks emotional biases. Tengai treats everyone in the same way, judging candidates on their competencies only and leaving no room for personal prejudices.

Upon completion of the interview, Tengai then goes on to provide a human recruiter with a transcript of the candidate’s answers so that they can make a decision about whether or not to move forward with that person. But part of Furhat’s long-term plan is to make Tengai completely autonomous such that the robot will make its own decisions on which applicants should proceed to the next round of interviews. The company already has an English-language version of the bot in development, with plans to roll out early next year.

According to a recent study conducted by TNG, a worrying 73 percent of job seekers in Sweden are convinced that they have been discriminated against during job interviews. TNG wants to replace human recruiters with Tengai in the hopes that it will make the screening process a lot fairer while still retaining the “human feel” so that such interviews don’t become overly robotic and predictable.

“I was quite sceptical at first before meeting Tengai, but after the meeting, I was absolutely struck,” healthcare recruiter Petra Elisson, who has been involved in the testing, told the BBC. “At first I really, really felt it was a robot, but when going more deeply into the interview I totally forgot that she’s not human.”

To ensure that Tengai doesn’t develop the biases of its creators and training data that it is trying to solve — and this has actually happened with some other AI tools — Furhat’s chief scientist, Gabriel Skantze, told the BBC the company is sparing no work and taking no shortcuts in its test interviews. According to him, the company is conducting test interviews with a diverse and vast collection of recruiters and volunteers before Tengai is ever given the power to actually give a real job candidate for a real position a yes or a no.

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