Meet Tengai and Sigmund. They May Steal Your Job.

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Feb 25, 2020

Who are Tengai and Sigmund? They’re your replacements, sort of.

Last year, the Swedish recruiting firm TNG launched Tengai, “the world’s first unbiased interview robot.” According to the company, Tengai (pictured throughout this article) is “a fully automated, physical interview robot with a D&I software powered by 15 years of experience in unbiased recruitment.” 

Meanwhile, the Dutch assessment company LTP recently made headlines with Sigmund (as in Freud, of course), another physical “robot assistant” that it is piloting to assess candidates.

Which raises the obvious question: Will robots take the jobs of recruiters? Already, Tengai has hired its first candidate, who had applied to be a digital coordinator at a local Swedish municipality. (Tengai is planning to launch an English-speaking version later this year.)

Both Tengai and Sigmund strive to reduce bias, while both parent companies say that their robots allow candidates to speak and engage more naturally with them than with online chatbots or avatars. More than that, researchers behind Sigmund claim that people are more open to interacting with robots than with humans. Meanwhile, Tengai’s creators say that because Tengai maintains neutral expressions, candidates tend to be more honest since they’re not trying to adjust their answers to the non-verbal communication of human interviewers. 

The major difference between the two robots is that Tengai examines only the words candidates say, while Sigmund aims also to gauge tone, pitch, and pacing of voices, as well as nonverbal facial expressions.

Now, a common criticism, or at least remark, about such technology is that there is no such thing as an unbiased robot, since a human developed it. But the real question shouldn’t necessarily be whether robots exhibit bias. It’s whether they exhibit less bias than human interviewers. Experts are still split on this. Nevermind that we need more research into verbal and non-verbal communication depending on different cultural backgrounds.

Here’s what I think: Although Tengai, Sigmund, and other robots might have a role in the recruiting process, I doubt they will ever completely replace humans. Recruitment is a two-way selection process: A recruiter still needs to be able to sell the job and answer candidates’ questions that cannot be easily, if at all, addressed by machines. So maybe a robot might eventually replace a screening interview, but not all interviews.

Besides, how cool would it be if candidates could just walk into, say, Ikea (keeping things Swedish here) and have an interview with Tengai for a shop-assistant or cashier role? Or imagine if, for example, a financial services company like Rabobank used robots in its talent practices?

You don’t have to imagine. Rabobank is already having robots train line managers, including helping them learn how to have “bad news conversations” (like around firing someone). 

Editor’s Note: What do you think? Are Tengai and Sigmund here to help you? Or are we making another Terminator sequel here? Please share your thoughts below.

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