Tricky Interfacing or Tricking Interfaces

Estimated Reading Time: 11 minutes minutes

I wrote this essay back in early 2020 and it was published on a website that is no longer available (though I did blog about it here). I figured I'd share it here since the conversation around AI has resurged with a vengeance and I've certainly been engaged in the conversation.

Tricky Interfacing or Tricking Interfaces: The Future of Education Is Learning To Navigate the Robot Gatekeepers

A word cloud with words from this post in the shape of a robot head

Anticipating the future of education is a fun game because it never fails to find endless examples that tell us by 2020, education was going to look completely different. Everyone would have a tablet
empowered with a personalized learning environment to guide people to new knowledge, skills, and of course, income. If it wasn’t tablets, then it was definitely going to be Massively Open Online Courses (a.k.a. MOOCs) that would lead people to binge-upskill like making their way through the latest season on their favorite streaming service. Let’s not forget that Artificial Intelligence (think more Wall-E than Terminator) would definitely find a means of replacing everything we know and do with learning. And people still get excited about earning badges (or micro-credentials), just one of the many forms of gamification out there that will have you leveling up your profession in no time. And please, don’t get me started on the blockchain.

But what should that mean if one is trying to establish, re-establish, or chart a new career path?  In truth, it means that one should look at all educational trends with a skeptical eye--especially those that push technological solutions since such drives usually come from outside of education from companies looking to sell software, hardware, and services as the solution to learning problems that may not even exist.  

What it means for the common person is that the skill that will suit them best, has less to do with the educational trends and more to do with understanding how working and hiring is shifting.  The most valuable training to have moving forward is to learn the technology of hiring in order to more effectively respond to or even trick the software--not because it will make you a valuable employee (though it likely will) but because that’s the skill that will get you in front of an actual person. 

Organizations everywhere are overwhelmingly focused on profit through saving time, reducing redundancies, and replacing human labor with computers (or employing much fewer people because computers in the form of robots and artificial intelligence can do more and cost less). In their pursuit of efficiency, companies are increasingly being told and sold services that automate the hiring process--from resume scanners that categorize your resume to video interviews with webcams that use AI to assess your qualities even before humans actually interact with you. After all, the hiring process is a time and money intensive process; if companies can have a computer spit out a score based on a secret set of algorithms that predict a successful hire, they will happily invest.  After all, if it is an acceptable practice for judges, then CEOs have nothing to worry about, right?

It almost goes without saying that these tools are problematic and may increasingly perpetuate biases of the programmers and employers, but companies are increasingly relying on them, so it means that people will need to learn how they work and also, how to game them so that they can advance in the hiring process.

To learn how these new technologies work is akin to learning the hidden curriculum in higher education; a set of unwritten rules about expectations, norms, and opportunities that often elude first-generation college students.  Students whose parents went to college often bank on and benefit from knowing this curriculum from being comfortable asking for extensions on assignments to knowing that going to office hours is more about getting answers.  In this same manner, job-seekers need to learn this new game and be prepared to leverage their knowledge of hiring technologies to help get themselves in front of human employers.  

So how does one get a leg up on the bots in the workplace? Here, I’ll offer one learning strategy for getting past the bots as it were and interacting with real humans and then follow it with a larger strategy about artificial intelligence in your particular realm of work. 

The first strategy requires a few steps.  The first step is to research how AI and other technologies are used in hiring practices throughout the industry of interest. Some industries are fully buying into AI hiring technologies while others may not even realize it exists.  Therefore, people should research their industries to see what major entities may be using them. 

This step involves searching the web with keywords related to the industry as well as terms like artificial intelligence, A.I., bots, machine learning, automation, etc., along with languages such as hiring, onboarding, interviewing, and other employment-type terminology.  People will inevitably run into distractions such as articles about how employees will be replaced by robots and A.I.  It’s best to avoid reading these too much--it can be as depressing as it is inaccurate for the time being. 

With a fuller sense of practices in place for a particular industry, one should determine what hiring technologies a hiring company may be using. The company might state it on its website or hiring portal. If no information is available, one might call the HR department to inquire about their use of specific industry-related AI hiring software they may use.  Now, people don’t have to say they are applying for a job and are curious. One could very easily inquire, claiming to be investigating industry practices.  Networking can help here too--reaching out to folks who are or have worked at a company might have some knowledge about technologies used in the hiring process.

The next step in this strategy is researching tactics for working with specific A.I. hiring technologies in specific industries.  If one cannot find out exactly if the company is using AI in hiring, but it is a common practice in the industry; it is safe to assume that this company is and to plan appropriately. This research should focus on how to enhance one’s changes with given A.I. technologies, become aware of its shortcomings, and where possible, (ethically) game the A.I. system.  You may luck out and find an article or other resources that is specifically targetted at A.I. within a given industry but you may also need to keep researching. Determining keywords and structure will be a matter of understanding and being up to date on your industry as well as closely studying the particular job ad (and others like it).  

While these steps are used to help prepare the resume and application stage--or the document portion of applying for a position, you should also be prepared to deal with AI in different ways.  In particular, keep an eye out for the increasing use of A.I. in one-way interviews where applicants use their webcam to answer questions and prompts without having the opportunity to read the body language of another person.  That’s right, your next job interview could be conducted by AI. There are articles and pieces out there like this one that can provide tips to perform well, but this might be where doing recorded mock interviews might be helpful as well.

So this first strategy is more focused on how to navigate the use of A.I. as it will continue to be a relevant trend within employment in the coming decade.  The second strategy focuses more broadly about what to do about the increase in artificial intelligence and its impact on the workplace; it boils down to a few approaches.  

The first step in this process is to take a big breath and learn a bit about what is and isn’t current possibilities with A.I. and what is fanciful thinking. Like other technologies, there’s an awful lot of predictions being made about what A.I. will do in the next twenty years, but like other technologies (I’m looking at you, phonograph), it’s promise might be a bit more science-fiction than fact.

But AI is going to be tempting to every industry, especially since it will be peddled by tech companies as the greatest thing since the PC to come to the workplace. The tech industry will be working hard to find ways to sell the software of AI to companies to decrease employees and increase profits. Inevitably, no matter what industry you work in--A.I. will shoved into it willingly or not in the next decade if it hasn’t already.  That’s a only tech prediction I’m comfortable making.

So what does that mean for your future education endeavors?  It means you will need to learn more about A.I. and pursue what I consider to be the best three positions to hold in your industry.  

Position #1: Be the Human that AI Can’t

While A.I. will be crammed into many industries, there’s still a lot of things that A.I. doesn’t do well or will not be useful for. It is going to vary by industry so it may be useful to spend some time learning about the basics of AI or even interviewing folks who work in AI to get a better sense of what may or may not be feasible for your industry.  But there will be things that it cannot do well in a given industry, and it would be smart to develop skills and abilities to occupy that space.  

Position #2: Be Besties With A.I.

An observation that is often made about the thread of technology replacing humans is that not only does it usually fall short, but that it also misses the bigger potential of what happens when technology and humans work together.  One of the often touted examples of this is what is known as Centaur Chess, a version of chess that involved a human and an A.I. as a team. The results of this pairing has revealed better outcomes when going up against A.I. and certainly other humans.  

For this position, it means thinking about what A.I. is good at and then figuring out how it could be even better with a human. Rather than vying for a position in lieu of A.I., a person can work to find ways to be more productive with the A.I. as the first ones to prove themselves flexible in this regard will be the ones to define new positions in their fields.

Position #3: Become the Industry A.I. Expert

This strategy leads to blending your current knowledge about the field or types of jobs you desire with learning about and either developing or adapting existing A.I. for your industry. This may seem like a lot but to get started in A.I. is not as hard as you think.  Yes, learning it can be challenging if one is new to the realm but getting started on the learning path is increasingly easy.  Places like EdX or Coursera regularly offer “massively open online courses” (or MOOCs) on the subject matter that people can take for free for personal growth or pay (usually $100-200) for credit for completion. Then, of course, there are lists like this that pop up quite frequently online that show all the different places one can learn to learn how to create A.I. and what to do with it. 

Taking on this position might mean looking to take on jobs that focus on strategy and implementation, but it could also mean developing a consulting business for companies in the industry to help in the implication. This position might also include creating A.I. to sell to companies in the industry.   

Of course, this is merely a prediction about technology and education--and we all know how wildly inaccurate that can be. So take it all with a grain of salt and in the meantime, I’ll be adhering to my tablet’s personalized learning assistant walk me through a strict regimen on how to create an A.I. that I can build onto the blockchain that will add a badge for every MOOC I complete--I better hurry up, I’ve almost made it to level 37.  

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