Future HR Technology : The influence of Robotics and Avatars


I’ve been reluctant to open this can of worms for fear of being labeled as an absolute “loony”, but in the last 6 months there have been a number of interventions and announcements from the US and Japan about the future use of technology and robotics that (if it happens) will impact how we use HR systems.

Nobody doubts that technology will become more and more powerful over time, but we are getting to a stage that some of the top brains are predicting the next big step-up in technology ie. the ability for technology to think and develop itself is closer than we may be aware. The announcement of the establishment of Singularity University with Dr. Ray Kurzweil at its head is a reality shock for many in that organisations like NASA and Google are prepared to put their money into this establishment that in essence will help scientist understand how to deal with technologies more powerful than the human brain and the human species – think about it for a moment….

A second article caught my eye in the last week. A Japanese company has announced that they will have a robot nurse in hospitals within the next 5 years because of severe talent shortages in this space. I’m OK with a “machine” monitoring my pulse or heart, but images of a robot trying to inject me or put up an intravenous drip is a bit more scary.

A little bit closer, is the development of Avatars in places like “Second Life” that actually do work on behalf of real people. I was at an HR technology conference in Orlando late last year and saw how a recruitment company had created a business in Second life using non-real people. 

So the question is how will HR systems deal with robots and non-real people doing work that was previously done by real people. There is a funny side to this if you think about it. What will you do with the robot nurse who makes a mistake – can you performance manage this event through a software upgrade. Will the HR system need to record the software version as a competency?. What about your recruitment avatar who needs to be “taken down” for modifications – will this be a form of leave request. And will real employees scream discrimination and call in the union because the organization provides power (food) to these non-real “employees” and not to real life employees?

Funny as it may sound, there are some serious considerations for HR software developers of the future. How will HR tools accommodate non-real life employees. Of course the first question is if they should just be treated as machines under the asset register and the maintenance department will put them onto a planned maintenance schedule, but then thinking about Singularity University,  I can foresee the need for intelligent machines to be treated in a non mechanical way.

I don’t have all the answers and I guess we need to let this area brew a bit more, but what I am clear on, is that there are some serious people out there with intentions to take technology into the human zone. 

Food for thought indeed! – what do you think?