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On the dynamics between man and machine

Innovation & Sustainability

19 December 2019

How do the world of technology and the world of people relate to each other? While no ready answer is available, it’s clear that technology has the power to both outclass and enhance typically human traits. Eric Castien, founder and CEO of BrainsFirst, tells about tailor-made games that provide insight into candidates’ future performance.

In the related area of selecting new employees, new technological solutions are quickly gaining traction as well, says Castien. His company develops serious games based on the latest neuro-scientific research, through which organisations such as Air Traffic Control at Schiphol Airport can select candidates based on highly specific mental skills.

These customised games provide insight into candidates’ unique brain profiles, Castien explains. “We look both at what a specific position, role or responsibility requires from the brain in a professional sense and at the natural abilities of an individual brain. The more in sync those two are, the greater the likelihood of a good match and therefore of creativity, engagement and a sense of wellbeing. Unlike traditional HR professionals, we’re not so much interested in past performance (basically, your CV) or current performance (that is, demonstrating what you’re capable of right now), as in future performance. For example, it’s not particularly interesting to know that someone is a skilled controller now, when you consider that the field might have changed completely five years down the line. What we’re looking to find out is what the brains of the people you hire today will be capable of an X number of years from now.”

“You want to find out what the brains of the people you hire today will be capable of down the line”

Castien believes the tools companies have traditionally relied on to select the right candidates – including IQ and personality tests – no longer cut it in today’s world. “I wouldn’t go so far as to say that those tests are useless, but they are highly unreliable when it comes to predicting performance in a specific professional context – when in fact that is exactly what you want to know. I would say the same thing about the latest games, which seem designed mainly to create a pleasant candidate experience. We use our technology to collect around 1,200 data points in just 45 minutes, which we can then translate into a brain profile which is unique to each person. It’s all well and good to say you’re looking for an intelligent, university-educated IT professional, but it makes a world of difference whether you’re looking for a data analyst, a software developer or an ethical hacker. The demands on the brain are completely different for each of these three positions.”

Castien reckons people and technology are more likely to enhance each other than compete with one another. “Technology can actually ensure that dull, repetitive tasks are performed by computers, so that people can focus on those things that cannot be captured in algorithms: creativity, social interaction and entrepreneurship. If robots are used to mop the floors in hospitals, the people doing this work now could make themselves useful in other ways, say by chatting with patients, who are probably really in need of some human interaction. Robots and AI have a great potential to set people free and take strenuous, physically demanding work off their hands. But they will need to be willing and able to quantify those things at which we excel as humans. When it comes to machines, we know exactly what they can and can’t do, and what their expected output is – now and in the longer term. As for the human brain, we still treat it like it’s a ‘black box’ of sorts. But the better we’re able to quantify the specific qualities of our brain, the less ambiguous our relationship to machines will be.”

Businesses need to invest in new applied technology skills
A leading theorist on people’s relationship to technology is US HRM consultant Alexandra Levit, whose professional affiliations include a membership on the Career Advisory Board, founded by De Vry University in Downers Grove, Illinois. In her book, Humanity Works: Merging Technologies and People for the Workforce of the Future (2018), she states that machines will not so much replace people, but that we will be seeing a new level of man/machine dynamics. People will need to be able to interact with technologies which are more sophisticated than ever before and will need to possess a skill set that will allow them to find their way in a digital world and use technology to achieve their goals.

Levit argues that this interaction calls for specific skills, which she describes as ‘applied technology skills’ (there are some commonalities with the well-publicised twenty-first century skills). The ability to analyse data is one example of an ‘applied technological skill’ – one which has become essential in every industry and for any position that requires tactical or strategic thinking, the author states.

Levit writes that organisations would do well to critically review their current competency and skills training and recruitment and selection processes. As she explains in her book, most businesses have yet to start looking at tomorrow’s employees from a ‘future skills’ perspective. At their peril, as it turns out, because many technological skills cannot be learned overnight. In Levit’s words: “Your goal should be to build a community of human workers who are comfortable with – instead of threatened by – technology advances.”

Also read ‘Technology: in or out of the comfortzone’