As machine learning algorithms are called upon to make more decisions for organizations, including talent decisions like recruiting and assessment, it’s becoming even more crucial to make sure that the performance of these algorithms is regularly monitored and reviewed just like the performance of an employee. While automation has been held up as a way to eliminate errors of human judgment from bias-prone processes like hiring, in reality, algorithms are only as good as the data from which they learn, and if that data contains biases, the algorithm will learn to emulate those biases.
The risk of algorithmic bias is a matter of pressing concern for organizations taking the leap into AI- and machine learning-enhanced HR processes. The most straightforward solution to algorithmic bias is to rigorously scrutinize the data you are feeding your algorithm and develop checks against biases that might arise based on past practices. Diversifying the teams that design and deploy these algorithms can help ensure that the organization is sensitive to the biases that might arise. As large technology companies make massive investments in these emerging technologies, they are also becoming aware of these challenges and looking for technological solutions to the problem as well. At Fast Company last week, Adele Peters took a look at Accenture’s new Fairness Tool, a program “designed to quickly identify and then help fix problems in algorithms”:
The tool uses statistical methods to identify when groups of people are treated unfairly by an algorithm–defining unfairness as predictive parity, meaning that the algorithm is equally likely to be correct or incorrect for each group. “In the past, we have found models that are highly accurate overall, but when you look at how that error breaks down over subgroups, you’ll see a huge difference between how correct the model is for, say, a white man versus a black woman,” [Rumman Chowdhury, Accenture’s global responsible AI lead,] says.
Microsoft announced on Monday that it was buying the software development platform GitHub for $7.5 billion worth of Microsoft stock in a deal expected to close later this year:
GitHub will retain its developer-first ethos and will operate independently to provide an open platform for all developers in all industries. Developers will continue to be able to use the programming languages, tools and operating systems of their choice for their projects — and will still be able to deploy their code to any operating system, any cloud and any device. Microsoft Corporate Vice President Nat Friedman, founder of Xamarin and an open source veteran, will assume the role of GitHub CEO. GitHub’s current CEO, Chris Wanstrath, will become a Microsoft technical fellow, reporting to Executive Vice President Scott Guthrie, to work on strategic software initiatives.
Ten-year-old GitHub, based in San Francisco, is widely used among software developers to share and collaborate on code. In earlier years, Bloomberg’s Dina Bass and Eric Newcomer note, Microsoft leaders were hostile toward open-source projects like those being shared on GitHub, with co-founder Bill Gates and former CEO Steve Ballmer encouraging developers to build proprietary software for their company. Current CEO Satya Nadella has taken a notably more positive line on open source, making GitHub a more natural addition to the way the software giant currently operates. In that context, Tom Warren writes at the Verge, “it’s easy to imagine why Microsoft would want to acquire GitHub”:
Microsoft killed its own GitHub competitor, Codeplex, in December and is now the top contributor to GitHub, Microsoft now has more than 1,000 employees actively pushing code to GitHub repositories. Its popularity among developers could see Microsoft earn some much-needed trust and respect from developers. In bigger enterprises and slower moving businesses, the fact Microsoft has acquired GitHub will make it more trusted to use for projects and source control, simply because Microsoft is already trusted across many software and services by these companies.
In a blog post discussing the acquisition, Nadella insists the move is all about empowering developers:
LinkedIn is developing a major new training program to teach its employees about artificial intelligence, which it predicts will be a part of everything they do in the near future, GeekWire’s Nat Levy reported last week:
The AI Academy program will start with classes for engineers, product managers and executives, but the company hopes to expand it so every employee can gain some degree of AI expertise. The first cohort from LinkedIn engineering just started going through the program, but the company is already looking at making the AI Academy part of its onboarding process for all new employees. There are four levels of classes, each one a deeper dive than the last. When participants are done, LinkedIn wants them to have an understanding one of the most important issues in the field: which problems AI can solve and which ones it can’t.
LinkedIn’s Head of Science and Engineering Craig Martell writes in a blog post about the program that AI is “like oxygen—it’s present in every product that we build and in every experience on our platform.” There it has common ground with parent company Microsoft. Like LinkedIn, Microsoft has infused AI into many of its major initiatives, and it offers an online training program for developers.
Microsoft has made huge bets on AI and sought to position itself as a leader in the field, hiring thousands of scarce and expensive AI experts and building AI functionality into its suite of enterprise products—with which LinkedIn is also becoming increasingly integrated. In that context, it’s no surprise to see LinkedIn make AI knowledge a priority for its own workforce: They’re going to need it.
Last November, Amazon announced that it was bringing its voice-controlled assistant Alexa into the workplace, launching Alexa for Business at its its annual AWS re:Invent conference. This week, the company revealed how far the enterprise version of Alexa has come, who is using it, and how the product is being applied in business settings. Amazon Chief Technology Officer Werner Vogels expanded on these points in a post on his blog, All Things Distributed:
Voice interfaces are a paradigm shift, and we’ve worked to remove the heavy lifting associated with integrating Alexa voice capabilities into more devices. For example, Alexa Voice Service (AVS), a cloud-based service that provides APIs to interface with Alexa, enables products built using AVS to have access to Alexa capabilities and skills.
We’re also making it easy to build skills for the things you want to do. This is where the Alexa Skills Kit and the Alexa Skills Store can help both companies and developers. Some organizations may want to control who has access to the skills that they build. In those cases, Alexa for Business allows people to create a private skill that can only be accessed by employees in your organization. In just a few months, our customers have built hundreds of private skills that help voice-enabled employees do everything from getting internal news briefings to asking what time their help desk closes.
Alexa for Business is now capable of interfacing with common enterprise applications like Salesforce, Concur, and ServiceNow, Vogels added, while IT developers can use the Alexa Skills Kit to enable custom apps as well. WeWork, one early adopter of the service, has “built private skills for Alexa that employees can use to reserve conference rooms, file help tickets for their community management team, and get important information on the status of meeting rooms.”
Microsoft on Monday marked the first anniversary of the global launch of Microsoft Teams, the tech giant’s entry into the burgeoning workplace chat and collaboration software market, noting that the platform is now used by 200,000 organizations in 181 markets and 39 languages. Teams is also introducing new features this year, including a cloud recording system for meetings, inline message translation, and integration with Microsoft’s voice assistant, Cortana.
TechCrunch’s Sarah Perez takes a closer look at the new features and how they fit into the accelerating race to become the ultimate enterprise communication tool:
The added integration with Cortana’s voice assistance could give Microsoft an edge in its battle with Slack, given the increasing importance of voice-based computing in the workplace and within business productivity applications.
Microsoft and Amazon announced last year their voice assistants, Cortana and Alexa, would work together, for example. Meanwhile, companies – including Microsoft – have been working to make their applications and services work well with voice assistants given the potential of voice computing in the workplace. …
IBM made headlines last month when it filed a lawsuit against its former Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President of HR, Lindsay-Rae McIntyre, claiming that her decision to accept a new position as Chief Diversity Officer of Microsoft violated a year-long non-compete agreement she had signed with IBM. McIntyre, the suit claimed, was privy to data and methods pertaining to IBM’s diversity and inclusion program that constituted trade secrets and would inevitably influence the work she did for their competitor.
In a court filing Monday, IBM revealed that it had settled the suit on February 25 and that McIntyre would delay the start of her new position at Microsoft until July, GeekWire reports:
Terms of the settlement weren’t disclosed, but Microsoft said in a statement this afternoon that McIntyre will be officially starting in her new position this summer. … A judge in the case had issued a temporary restraining order preventing McIntyre from working at Microsoft pending a preliminary injunction hearing that was slated to take place next week.
“We’re pleased the court granted IBM’s motion for a temporary restraining order, protecting IBM’s confidential information and diversity strategies,” an IBM spokesperson said. “We’re glad the action has been resolved to the satisfaction of all parties and that Ms. McIntyre will not begin her new responsibilities until July.”
Since taking control of the company in 2014, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has been on a mission to transform its culture from one of fierce internal competition to the collaborative ideal of “One Microsoft.” Nadella’s tenure has seen an increase in the number of “boomerang” employees returning to Microsoft after stints at other companies, Seattle Times business reporter Rachel Lerman observes—over 2,200 in total:
During the few years before Nadella stepped into the role, about 12 percent of the company’s new hires in the U.S. each year had previous job stints at the company. But that number ticked up to 16 percent, or 621 boomerangs, between July 2014 and July 2015, starting a few months after Nadella took over as CEO.
These returning employees, who remember how Microsoft operated a decade ago, are particularly attuned to the change in the company’s dynamic, which in many cases, was part of the reason they decided to return:
When [Dean] Lester, an engineering director, left the company at the end of 2009, he was craving some time off and new challenges, but he was also feeling frustrated with the way Microsoft teams were being run — they were so focused on rapid project launches that people were burning out. That was changing, the chorus of former co-workers told him. He should take another look. …