ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Can artificial intelligence make the hiring process fairer? We look at that question in All Tech Considered.
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SHAPIRO: Lots of Fortune 500 companies use some sort of AI to screen job candidates. In Sweden, recruiters are testing an AI-powered recruitment robot. Reporter Maddy Savage went to check it out.
MADDY SAVAGE, BYLINE: I'm outside the offices of TNG, one of Sweden's largest recruiting companies, which has a glass-fronted office in downtown Stockholm. And I'm waiting for Avni Dervishi, a job-seeker who's here to take part in trials of the firm's new robots.
AVNI DERVISHI: I have a master's degree in European politics, European affairs. I applied for quite many, many, many jobs. Some interviews I did manage to get, and I know that I did comply with the requirements.
SAVAGE: But Dervishi thinks he's missed out on being hired because of discrimination or unconscious bias. He's in his 40s and is originally from Kosovo.
DERVISHI: What I do think it's missing is more open-mindedness. Swedish people are cautious. They are careful.
SAVAGE: OK. Well, I'm going to leave you...
SAVAGE: ...To try out this robot interview.
DERVISHI: All right.
SAVAGE: Best of luck.
DERVISHI: Thank you.
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SAVAGE: Sweden has experienced record immigration in recent years. And the unemployment rate amongst people born abroad is around 19 percent, compared to just 4 percent of Swedes. To get some more context, I went for coffee with Matt Kriteman, an American living in Stockholm who works at a nonprofit that campaigns for inclusion in the labor market.
MATT KRITEMAN: Sweden is relatively new, comparatively speaking, with other countries that have been multicultural, for example, like, the U.S., from the beginning. We see more - growing pains is what we call it.
SAVAGE: What do you think about the idea of using AI or robots for recruitment?
KRITEMAN: We're in Stockholm, the tech startup capital of Europe. So we're really, really interested in this. At the same time, AI is only as good and as diverse as the people who create the algorithm.
SAVAGE: That's the programming instructions that determine how the robot will respond. The robot being used by TNG, called Tengai, has been given a female voice and interacts with candidates by means of a talking head. Her face glows, and she can even mimic human facial expressions like blinking and smiling.
COMPUTER-GENERATED VOICE: (Speaking Swedish).
SAVAGE: At the moment, she can only carry out job interviews in Swedish, but she is learning to speak English.
CHARLOTTE ULVROS: My name is Charlotte Ulvros, and I'm the chief marketing and experience officer. Tengai is an unbiased social robot to make sure that we find out who is the best candidate for the job, not anything that's connected to bias, for example, your looks or anything like that.
SAVAGE: She says TNG has sought to avoid any potential algorithm bias by ensuring a diverse group of recruiters and test candidates have been involved in training the robot. But most of the developers working on the project are men.
ULVROS: There could be, for example, sexist algorithms, but that's when we will use external experts, who will continuously check the code because we're so aware of this issue, and we're trying to do an unbiased product. And we need to keep on top of things.
SAVAGE: That's not the only concern. Dr. Malin Lindelow, a psychologist who specializes in recruitment, says there's much more to a job interview than just answering a list of questions.
MALIN LINDELOW: We have a lot of areas where there is lack of employees, so actually attracting candidates is a big issue. I'm concerned that it will be an impersonal and not-very-selling experience for the candidate. They need to meet the people they're going to work with in the future.
SAVAGE: Back at TNG, Avni Dervishi's just finished his job interview, and he's got mixed feelings.
DERVISHI: In the beginning, it felt like, is this sci-fi - science fiction? And at the end, it felt that I would like to see those robots start to be applicable in some working places which lack diversity but not take the jobs of the humans in charge of recruiting people.
SAVAGE: TNG plans to start using the robot in real job interviews for May, although it will still use human recruiters for second-round interviews. But her developers say they can see a future where robots like Tengai could eventually make the final call. For NPR News, I'm Maddy Savage in Stockholm.
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