Cognitive HR: How Cognition Can Change the Way HR Works

By Affif Siddique

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I studied a little about Cognitive Computing back in my engineering college days and then forgot all about it until I heard it again during my interactions with the technology gurus at IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) and started reading the buzz IBM created around Watson and Apple around SIRI (A technology developed by SRI International and DARPA). 

Wiki defined “Cognition is a faculty for the processing of information, applying knowledge, and changing preferences. Cognition, or cognitive processes, can be natural or artificial, conscious or unconscious”

Education has the explicit task in society of developing cognition. From a large systemic perspective, cognition is considered closely related to the social and human organization functioning and constrains.

Researchers at the Cognitive Computing Research Group at the University of Memphis claim that cognitive computing, like the Roman God Janus, has two faces. In the case of cognitive computing, they claim there is a science face and an engineering face. "The science face fleshes out the global workspace theory of consciousness into a full cognitive model of how minds work. The engineering face of cognitive computing explores architectural designs for software information agents and cognitive robots that promise more flexible, more human-like intelligence within their domains." 

So how can this science and technology play a role in developing next generation tools for Human Capital Management or commonly known as HR functions? IBM recently announced that it is making its Watson platform available to develop cloud applications and Nova Spivack, a noted technology futurist, just wrote an article pointing out “Why Cognition-as-a-Service is the next operating system battlefield”.

These are the sure signals that soon we will see use of cognition in many next generation applications. HCM vendors are increasingly looking to differentiate themselves in offering products which can help their customers take the leap into the fast changing and modern world of HR requirements. Introducing “Cognitive HR” that combines the use of the Big Data and Cognitive computing opens a new world of possibilities for both employees and the companies. For example, a data-driven cognitive system can help human resources staff recognize attributes, traits, and characteristics in applicants, candidates and employees that create a philosophical fit within the organization. Instead of intuition to justify the selection of prospective employees over other candidates, cognitive learning and Big Data can be used to determine how their professional styles mesh with the workplace culture. Enabling strategic HR managers to visualize concepts or an idea and add logic and perception to it, developing functional or tactical processes, and determining which functional tasks transform concept to reality, all can be done simultaneously throughout an organization. 

The following is a base model for expert reasoning, which incorporates some basic macrocognitive functions:

I suspect that most people believe that cognitive computing systems will require them to think less not more. On the subject of post-modern business process management, Frank Buytendijk noted author writes: "It would not be possible to define and document every single process that flows through our organization. After all, every instance of every process would be unique, the result of a specific interaction between you and a customer or any other stakeholder. What is needed is an understanding that different people have different requirements, and structure those in an ontological approach. In a postmodern world, we base our conversations on a meta-understanding. We understand that everyone has a different understanding. Of course, as we do today, we can automate those interactions as well. Once we have semantic interoperability between data sets, processes, systems and computers in the form of master data management, metadata management, and communication standards based on XML (in human terms: 'language'), systems can exchange viewpoints, negotiate, triangulate and form a common opinion. Most likely, given the multiple viewpoints, the outcome would be better than one provided by the traditional 'single version of the truth' approach." 

If we have entered the post-modern era, Buytendijk concludes, "One thing is clear: Before we are able to embrace postmodernism in IT, we need to seriously re-architect our systems, tools, applications and methodologies." This shouldn't be change we fear but change we embrace. Cognitive computing opens a new world of possibilities for making life better.

Dharmendra Modha, Manager of cognitive computing at IBM Almaden Research Center, who has been called IBM's "Brain Guy", is one of the driving forces behind the company's efforts to create thinking machines calls, cognitive computing "thought for the future." He continues: "Making sense of real-time input flowing in at a dizzying rate is a Herculean task for today's computers, but would be natural for a brain-inspired system. Using advanced algorithms and silicon circuitry, cognitive computers learn through experiences, find correlations, create hypotheses, and remember—and learn from—the outcomes.

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Affif Siddique is Solutions Consultant with human capital management team at Oracle. He has an established track record of enabling success and leading organizations to increased innovation, transformation and revenue growth. He is a modern thinker and solid results-driven executive with extensive leadership experience in market development, and partner management in strategic and tactical roles. In addition to that Affif has advised and led technology startups in hardware, online media and enterprise software industry.

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