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Cognitive technology can be used to support human thinking and the process of decision making but critical decisions involving people will be taken by humans.

By Uma Ganesh

Cognitive computing which is a combination of cognitive science and computer science provides the organisation the pathway to achieve artificial intelligence. It has the capability to assimilate facts around the problems posed and find resolutions, very similar to how humans would approach problems by grasping the details, using logic and previous experience to think through the issues at hand and use appropriate facts and knowledge to arrive at a solution.

 According to IBM, “Cognitive systems are those that learn at scale, reason with purpose and interact with humans naturally.” These systems have the ability to adapt and are dynamic in nature, interact with the users with ease and identify their needs and the data sources deliver reliable and current analysis.

The recent report of IBM Institute for Business Value highlights that three core processes of HR domain, namely talent acquisition and onboarding, talent development and HR operations would derive the most advantage from cognitive computing. With cognitive support, talent acquisition team is able to sort multiple data sources and make sense of unstructured data to get better insights about the candidates and arrive at a list of candidates who best fit the requirements in the shortest possible time.

Cognitive systems are capable of creating customised career pathways and identifying learning objects connected with the specific competencies to be developed thus making learning more relevant and the outcomes purposeful. HR operations are getting streamlined with cognitive capabilities as accurate and up-to-date information is being made available for effective and timely decision making. Virtual agents are being coached to address the routine employee queries, thus freeing up the HR professionals to attend to more complex and demanding tasks.

In the context of digital transformation journey that organisations are undertaking, the fundamental focus would be around the cognitive dimension leading to understanding the needs of the customers, the employees and other stakeholders and being able to influence changes. Thus the phenomenon of cognition becoming intrinsic with every function is being experienced by most organisations.

A cognitive system is able to handle significantly more number of variables as compared to human cognition as a result of which decision making is likely to become more and more accurate. This calls for individuals to be able to interpret the data and derive better insights and clarity for reaching conclusions. Therefore the focus of retraining or upskilling would be not just to provide new knowledge with respect to the digital journey, but equip the employees with ‘learnability’—i.e., to provide the requisite cognitive skills to unlearn and learn new ways of functioning and develop the ability to interpret and make sense of things that are confusing, complex or contradictory.

The challenges of dealing with huge volumes of data have created a strong case for systems that are clearly better equipped than the human beings. In recent times, one of the main challenges faced is in learning how to process the user generated contents such as texts, audio and images and organizing them in meaningful ways. This is where AI concepts and psychology come together and cognitive computing gets guidance about various psychological phenomena. This would allow in understanding the intent and aspirations of the employees better and help build strategies for effective employee engagement.

There are challenges too with cognitive computing that we should be cognizant of. The intelligence of the cognitive systems are restricted to the data around which they are built and are unable to analyse all the associated risks and consider unstated socio economic, cultural factors. Huge amount of time needs to be spent in training.

While the cognitive systems can be trained to respond to complex problems and even situations with ambiguity, they should be viewed as necessary support for augmenting the HR function rather than replacing the function or lose the human touch. The scope of present cognitive technology is limited to engagement and decision and they could be used to support human thinking and the process of decision making but critical decisions involving people would continue to be taken by humans.

The writer is CEO, Global Talent Track, a corporate training solutions company

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