Using Digital Tools to Assess Talent

MIT Sloan Management Review

Related Reading

Josh Bersin and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, “New Ways to Gauge Talent and Potential,” MIT Sloan Management Review, November 2018.

Most businesses understand that they must attract star performers — and compete fiercely for them — to thrive in the marketplace. What they struggle with is how to do it well. Now, a new generation of assessment tools is quickly gaining traction and potentially making talent identification more efficient, more precise, and less biased.

In this webinar, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, coauthor of the recent MIT SMR article, “New Ways to Gauge Talent and Potential,” discusses the new technologies for talent assessment and how to make sure we use them properly in our organizations.

In this webinar, you’ll learn:

The ethical implications of talent-identifying tools. The pros and cons of three broad categories of assessment methods. How to take a nuanced approach to talent assessment tools, as neither holy grail nor scary intrusion. How new assessment methods may detect new indicators of performance potential.
How Government Shutdowns Affect Small Businesses

Some 800,000 federal workers are not being paid or are working without pay during the partial government shutdown. And the small businesses that cater to those workers are also feeling the pain. But the impact of any shutdown goes far beyond just that. The public loses access to any number of services, and small businesses lose access to things like programs intended to encourage entrepreneurship and government contractors can't get paid.

Small businesses can't get loans

The Small Business Administration (SBA) stopped processing new loans on December 22, 2018. Those loans will not get processed until the government reopens. That means small businesses can't get the money they need to start or expand their companies. It will likely take months to dig out of the backlog that has already piled up.

According to the National Association of Government Guaranteed Lenders, "routine actions requiring SBA's approval cannot be processed." Lenders won't be able to submit loans into an approval queue for SBA processing, and they can't receive 7(a) loan numbers during the shutdown. Therefore, they can't approve loans under their delegated authority.

The access to capital also hits farmers who can't get access to Agriculture Department loans, or from the tariff relief program that went into effect last fall. Government loans aren't the only solution, but are often the best rates for small businesses. But, in a pinch, a reliable partner with a proven track record could be the solution.

Editor's note: Need financing for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you with free information.

Small businesses can't hire new employees

If there's ever been an environment when you wanted to be doubly sure your employees are in this country legally, it's now. But the federal E-verify system is down. This internet-based system allows companies to determine the eligibility of employees to work in the U.S. That means in states where companies are required to verify legal status before hiring, small companies can't backfill or expand their workforce. 

No help from the IRS

While the IRS won't stop being the country's tax collector, it will not be around to answer questions from small businesses. That's a problem now that the 2017 tax code has a number of ambiguities in the 200 pages of new rules that will likely cause some confusion. Many small businesses will have to decide whether to file for an extension or file a special form stating why they believe they are paying the correct amount.

Moreover, the IRS may not issue refunds, process 1040X amended returns or conduct audits. But some operations will continue unabated, including criminal law enforcement, processing electronic returns up to the point of refund and processing paper returns.

Federal employee business

Whenever the government shuts down, a legion of federal workers finds themselves on furlough. That means no more lunches at nearby restaurants and no quick trips to the store on the way home. Small businesses located around federal buildings, national parks or monuments might find a drop in demand until the government shutdown ends and furloughed workers return. Nowhere is the impact greater than in Washington, D.C., where most federal employees are based.

People can't renew passports

If you were planning international travel or work, those trips may need to be postponed until the shut down ends. That's because the U.S. Department of State expects delays in issuing new or updated passports. That will be especially true in places where the passport office is in a federal building that is shutdown. They will still be processing passports, but there's no guarantee it will be ready when you need it. 

"The Department will continue as many normal operations as possible," the Guidance on Operations During a Lapse in Appropriations said. "Operating status and available funding will need to be monitored continuously and closely, and planning for a lapse in appropriations must be continued."

Although it could be easy to conflate government with regulation, the public services small businesses have come to rely on are apparent when they no longer function. Part of weathering the storm of a government shutdown is being prepared for the roadblocks that come with it. While there is little the average entrepreneur can do to affect policy in the nation's capital, there is plenty that can be done to keep businesses running as usual until Washington reopens its doors.

Niche industries face specialized impacts

The effects of a shutdown unsurprisingly vary from industry to industry, and may come in surprising ways. For instance, craft brewers have to wait for the government to reopen to launch new bears. That's because they need approval from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which is shut down. Hotels and restaurants that cater to visitors to National Parks and Monuments are taking a hit, as those locations remain closed. About one-fifth of home sales are stalled because federal workers can't pay. And those companies looking at launching an IPO are being pushed back because of the partial closure of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

How AI That Passes the Turing Test Can Benefit Your Business

AI that can pass the Turing test has been something of a holy grail for some computer scientists since mathematician Alan Turing developed the test to determine whether a computer uses language well enough to be mistaken for a human. In 2018, Google showed that its Duplex AI-powered assistant can book salon appointments and restaurant reservations over the phone with real people. The public response ranged from impressed to skeptical to nearly panicked, as industry watchers and scientists speculated about possible applications for voice AI that sounds truly human. One possible use is for better fraud prevention. But the same technology could also make fraud attacks worse. Here’s what small business owners should know about what AI can do now for you, what new generations of AI may be capable of and how to safely use AI for business.

There's some debate in the data science community about whether Google Duplex opens the door to more complex and wide-ranging AI applications that pass the Turing test and whether those advances might happen any time soon. Regardless, even applications like Duplex that are narrow in scope could eventually change the way online payment fraud is managed. The defining element probably won't be the technology itself but the intent of the people using it. 

How AI that passes the Turing test might help prevent fraud 

People can already chat, text and talk on the phone with robots, but the conversations, as with Google Duplex's, are limited in scope. It's also easy to throw today's customer service robots off track with an unexpected question or heavy accent. But if customer service AI – especially voice AI – eventually passes the Turing test beyond the very narrow scope that Google has done, that technology could make it easier for companies to stop credit card fraud by taking over some challenging but crucial phone conversations.

Right now, online credit card fraud (card-not-present, or CNP, fraud) is a growing problem for businesses of all sizes, in part because so many criminals have access to breached consumer data. There are two ways for companies to handle online orders that – after analysis of a number of factors like shipping address, IP location, purchase history and more – seem like they might be fraudulent but might not be.

The first option is to simply reject these iffy orders. The problem with this approach is that if the order wasn't fraud, the rejected customer may be so frustrated, embarrassed or angry that they never shop with the company again. This is a common and expensive problem. In 2016, merchants lost $2 billion more to these false declines of good orders than they did to actual CNP fraud. 

The second option is to manually review each suspicious order. In some cases, fraud reviewers have to call the customer to make sure they really did make the purchase. These voice conversations require skill to collect information without seeming accusatory, and they require company resources to make calls at a convenient time for customers no matter what part of the world they're in.

Because manual review is resource-intensive, not all companies can afford to do it in-house. Others try, but find that process stalls the order approval process during the holidays and other busy seasons. Voice AI tools that pass the Turing test could take on some of that workload and, with enough data fed into the system, perhaps become better than humans at spotting subtle verbal clues that indicate fraud. In the meantime, outsourcing to a third-party manual-screening provider can reduce the burden on businesses.

How fraudsters might exploit AI that passes the Turing test

Of course, such advanced voice AI could also be exploited by criminals who want to commit fraud more efficiently. As cybersecurity expert David Gerwitz wrote shortly after Google's voice AI demonstration, more advanced versions of this technology could be used to scam people over the phone. Voice AI that passes the Turing test could, in theory, impersonate consumers calling in orders, customer-service reps calling with questions or specific individuals like politicians appearing to call for donations. 

AI systems can also be duped by the inclusion of visual or audio messages that make the neural network think it's dealing with the opposite of what it sees or hears, even while things appear normal to humans. Researchers have already shown that they can embed instructions to voice assistants in audio files that humans can't detect. In one case, an audio news story contained “silent” instructions to disable the target's alarm system and unlock the front door. Imagine that sort of attack aimed at e-commerce customer-service AI to override fraud controls and deployed at scale. 

It all comes back to humans

These scenarios are far-fetched for now, but it's a given in cybersecurity and fraud prevention that each new advance brings new risks. There's no reason to believe voice AI systems that pass the Turing test will be any different. That means that when companies can finally use Turing-test passing voice AI to protect themselves from fraud, they'll also need to develop safeguards to thwart criminals who want to use that advanced technology against them.

What can small businesses do to get the benefits of today’s AI without incurring needless risk?

First, understand what current AI tools can do. Voice assistant devices, customer service chatbots and fraud-prevention algorithms are powerful tools that can save your business time and money, as long as you combine them with human oversight to prevent breaches, poor customer service or false declines of good orders. Next, be cautious about using AI-powered personal assistants to handle critical business tasks like alarm system management and banking. Finally, keep up with the news about the kinds of AI your business uses to stay informed about new features, functions and security issues as AI gets more sophisticated.

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