Be alert to the danger of AI removing the ‘human’ from Human Capital

pinpoint one human resources CEO and director Lucia Mabasa. Picture: Supplied

pinpoint one human resources CEO and director Lucia Mabasa. Picture: Supplied

Published Apr 9, 2024


By Lucia Mabasa

The role of AI, artificial intelligence, and its impact on our lives is becoming the burning debate of our times.

And so it should. AI is all around us, making our lives easier in ways we could never have imagined, but also at a cost.

AI touches everything; from our personal lives to the professional even – or perhaps I should say especially Human Capital the corporate inflection point between the individual and the company.

Certain people in the C-suite are wondering whether there is even a need for a fully manned Human Capital Business Unit, or whether AI; with its algorithms and chatbots all underpinned by machine learning shouldn’t take over. It’s a fair question and if you are part of Gen Z, you’ll probably be one of the first to agree, after all AI can create everything that this generation loves; immediate responses and a gamer like feel, coupled to interaction with avatars. At the other end of the spectrum the Boomers and many of Gen X and Y are filled with horror at the thought of an inanimate world where the human touch is reduced to the banal basics of a disinterested call centre operator.

There is no doubt either that AI’s ability to aggregate, sort and sift through mountains of data is a huge winner in an environment like Human Capital which is so data rich. The question though has to be how much AI do you allow and when do you get involved? This conundrum is not unique to Human Capital, you can ask that question of AI in almost every conceivable aspect of human life, because that is how all pervasive this technology is.

There’s no reason why interviews cannot be handled remotely using Chatbots. It makes perfect sense too to do an onboarding process using a blend of virtual reality and video to give a prospective employee a truly immersive introduction to the company they are joining. AI can handle access control, leave planning and attendance registers, there’s no doubt that it could handle training too. But in this sector especially we must never lose sight of what we do: as Human Capital managers, we – the humans – manage human capital. There is literally the risk of creating an inhumane situation if Human Capital becomes an inhuman operation.

An AI application is only as good as the large data set and language model it has been trained on. AI models from the northern hemisphere will need to be retrained to accommodate African cultural norms.

We all know that one size doesn’t always fit all, but sometimes the hardest battle we have is mounting a successful fight back against people in positions of power who have let themselves be swayed by the latest nice-to-haves and the on-trend debates from other countries and blithely thinking they can be cut and pasted and applied here. The debate is even tougher when the new tech comes with the promise of a bottom line impact in terms of cutting costs, the pressure to adopt and implement can almost become overwhelming – but if something is done for the wrong reasons, and in the wrong spirit, the net result can be catastrophic.

But in the same breath, none of us can afford to be Luddites, the angry tradesmen of the 19th century in middle England who went about smashing the automated looms that they feared would kill their livelihoods as weavers. We have to lean into the new technology, we have to experiment with it, but we dare not lose sight of who serves who, or we will run the risk of becoming subsumed by it. Just as good business leaders should delegate responsibility and not abdicate, we should treat AI the same.

There are countless areas in which it can help and in which it will dramatically improve how we as human capital professionals perform our roles. Indeed as we have transitioned from being a support function that is tactical to a trusted partner with strategic insight for the board, so too this new technology should free us from the hum drum and mundane and empower us to be even better at what we do.

But that can only happen if we go into this brave new world with our eyes open and our wits about us. And this isn’t always easy – in any situation, especially not one as disruptive and high stakes as this debate.

* Lucia Mabasa is Chief Executive Officer of pinpoint one human resources, a proudly South African black women owned executive search firm. pinpoint one human resources provides executive search solutions in the demand for C suite, specialist and critical skills across industries and functional disciplines, in South Africa and across Africa. Visit to find out more or read her previous columns on leadership; avoiding the pitfalls of the boardroom and becoming the best C-suite executive you can be.

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media.