The use of artificial intelligence in recruitment hit the headlines this week as the UK Information Commissioner's Office (the ICO) announced that they will investigate whether AI systems are showing bias when dealing with job applicants.

AI in recruitment

AI has been used in the recruitment sphere for a number of years now, but such use has increased in recent years, particularly since the Covid-19 pandemic which resulted in a technological shift in working practices. Recruitment has always been an obvious target for automation - an often paper and information heavy process where the sheer volume of data can be more efficiently sifted and analysed by a computerised system.

By the late 2010s, a number of AI recruitment products had appeared on the market, purporting to help eliminate bias in the recruitment process altogether. However, the ICO noted back in 2019 that "the fact that AI systems learn from data does not guarantee that their outputs will be free of human bias or discrimination."

The investigation

The ICO have now indicated that they intend to launch an investigation into the use of AI systems in recruitment. This investigation will be "looking at the impact AI use could be having on groups of people who aren't part of the testing for this software, such as neurodiverse people or people from ethnic minorities" according to a speech made this week by John Edwards, the UK's new Information Commissioner.

The AI systems in question can range from assessing video interviews to a “key words” search of an applicant’s CV or application form. The key concerns that have been raised are that where AI software currently focuses on an individual's written ability or speech patterns for example, this risks putting those who have disabilities, neurodiverse conditions, or who don't have English as a first language, at a disadvantage. This is turn risks counteracting the positive steps that are being taken by many businesses in the area of diversity and inclusion.

What can employers do?

Notwithstanding the potential risks, it is clear that there is a place for AI in the recruitment process. Using AI tools can achieve levels of efficiency when it comes to sifting through applications that humans alone cannot. Employers should however be aware of the risks that AI could pose and be proactive in carrying out appropriate risk assessments of any AI tools whether currently in place or proposed to be introduced. The use of any AI tools should also be regularly reviewed in order to identify any potential impact on employees and applicants. Whilst there is no regulatory framework mandating such reviews or impact assessments at present, the issue of AI regulation is currently on the UK government’s radar, as well as being considered globally.