Tengai the programmed robot for a job interview. Is it true?
The first Swedish recruiters are testing the world’s first robot designed for impartial job interviews. But can she really do a better job than humans?
Her name is Tengai. She is 41 cm tall and weighs 35 kg at eye level while sitting on top of a table directly in front of the candidate she is about to interview.
Her bright yellow face tilts slightly to the side. Then she blinks and smiles slightly, asking her first question: “Have you ever been interviewed by a robot?“
Tengai is a creation of Furhat Robotics, artificial intelligence and social robotics company born from a research project at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.
The company spent the last four years building a computer interface similar to a person who mimicked the way we speak, as well as our subtle facial expressions.
The idea, according to chief scientist Gabriel Skantze, “feels less scary or strange than a more traditional robot.”
Since October 2018, the start-up has been collaborating with one of the largest recruitment firms in Sweden, TNG.
The goal is to offer candidates job interviews that are free of any of the unconscious biases that managers and recruiters can often bring to the hiring process while making the experience “humane”.
“It usually takes about seven seconds for someone to make a first impression and between five and 15 minutes for a recruiter to make a decision”.
We want to challenge it, “says Elin Oberg Martenson, director at the TNG office in the center of Stockholm.
Subtle biases include making assumptions about the ability of a person based on gender, ethnicity, voice, education, appearance, or as a result of informal conversations before or after an interview.
“For example, if I ask you a question at the beginning of the process like: ‘Do you play cricket?’ and you say, ‘Yes, I love playing cricket,’ and so do I, so I’ll put it in a positive box somehow, “says Martenson.
Tengai, on the contrary(opposite), does not participate in the pre-interview conversations and raises all the questions in the same way, in the same tone and, in general, in the same order. This is intended to create a fairer and more objective interview.
Then, the recruiters or managers receive text transcripts of each interview to help them decide which candidates should go to the next stage of the process, based only on the answers.
“I think it’s a very good help during the evaluation, if it has a great recruitment process with many candidates, to have someone, a robot, without emotions or feelings,” says Petra Ellisson, a 50-year-old woman who works in health recruitment.
She has been participating in the trials, both as a recruiter analyzing the transcripts of the candidates and as an interviewee.
“I was a bit doubtful at first before I knew Tengai the programmed robot, but after the meeting, I was really surprised,” she reflected.
“At first, I really felt It was a robot, but while I was in the interview, I forgot it was not a person.”
but robots have been programmed by people, studying the rows of data people gather and learn from human behavior, can not they inherit some of our biases?
Furhat Robotics says that he tried to stop it by taking many test interviews with different voluntary team groups.
“It’s learning from different recruiters so you can not see the specific behaviors of a recruiter,” explains the chief scientist of the company, Gabriel Skantze.
After several months of testing, Tengai the programmed robot will begin interviewing actual candidates later in May. Recruiters and developers also work in the English version of the robot that is expected to be implemented in early 2020.
The goal is to finally be sophisticated enough to decide for oneself if a candidate can advance to the next recruitment phase, avoiding the need for a person to review the interview transcripts.
“Before the hope is complete, we need to make sure that there is no biases in our data,” Mr. Skantzeze.
Sweden offers a particularly interesting testbed for AI recruitment.
In addition to being a small country with a reputation for early adoption in terms of new technologies, the difference in ethnicity in the labor market is a particularly important issue after immigration registration in recent years.
Unemployment to native Swedes is around 4.01%, but for citizens born abroad, the figure is over 15.55%. Compare this to the United Kingdom, where 5.75% of people born abroad are out of work.
A recent survey for TNG(The Next Generation) suggested that 74% of job seekers in Sweden believe they have been discriminated against while applying for a job because of their ethnic origin, age, sex, sexual preference, appearance, weight or health.
“Swedish culture is extremely risky, so they usually want a security card in Swedish people,” says a Bulgarian looking for a job who wants to know only by his name, Ekaterina, who is waiting outside an employment agency in the city center.
Ekaterina believes that robots like Tengai could be “excellent as a first step” in the recruitment process, because “they have no stereotype about their dialect or accent or where it comes from”.
The technology has also been promoted by the Diversity Foundation, a non-profit, non-political organization that defends the rights of foreign workers in the Swedish labor market.
“Any way that emphasizes the ability and skill of things like ethnicity is a welcome development and is really part of the spirit of Swedish innovation,” says director of operations Matt Kriteman.
A growing number of AI tools and technologies are being evaluated globally in the area of recruitment.
The highest-profile includes HireVue, a United States-based video platform that allows candidates in interviewing any time of the day and uses algorithms to check their responses and facial expressions.
Seedlink, with their offices in Amsterdam and Shanghai, asks candidates to answer questions on their smartphones and study their language to see if they are culturally appropriate for a paper.
And the new company in the UK, Jamie AI, focuses on associating candidates with the right credentials for the relevant job vacancies, seeking to eliminate bias by excluding demographic factors, such as name, age or ethnicity.
The Swedish recruiter TNG says that the interviewees have enjoyed their encounters with Tengai the programmed robot