Interviewed for a job by Sophie the robot

Interviewed for a job by Sophie the robot

PUBLISHED: 18 HOURS 35 MINUTES AGO | UPDATE: 4 HOURS 53 MINUTES AGO

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Professor Rajiv Khosla believes robots in the workplace can improve emotional wellbeing. Photo: Jesse Marlow

RACHEL NICKLESS

With big eyes, a feminine voice and some interesting dance moves, Sophie is rather cute but don’t let that fool you.

Sophie could soon be conducting your toughest-ever job interview, monitoring not just what you say but tiny twitches in your eyebrows that give clues about how you really feel.

Sophie and her fellow “human-like” robots Charles, Matilda, Betty and Jack plus two as yet unnamed robots are the product of a research joint venture between La Trobe University Business School in Melbourne and global electronics giant NEC Corporation in Japan.

NEC provided the robots and La Trobe is adapting them for use in recruitment, health care and as “emotionally engaging learning partners” in Australia. Rajiv Khosla, who has been driving the project since its inception, says the robots are a “world first in the area of recruitment”.A multidisciplinary team of 22 La Trobe staff and students from management, health sciences, sociology, psychology and education worked on the robots. Their aim is to create machines that emotionally engage with humans using “human like communication modalities”.

Khosla, the director of La Trobe’s Research Centre for Computers, Communication and Social Innovation, argues that robots could actually humanise workplaces.

“IT [information technology] is such a pervasive part of our lives, we feel that if you bring devices like Sophie into an organisation it can improve the emotional well-being of individuals.”

Khosla will showcase his robots at the seventh Annual Australasian Talent Conference from May 28-30 in Sydney in the hope of meeting business partners.

Sophie was already involved in trial interviews of candidates for sales jobs, asking 76 questions about selling.

“She captures their [candidates] cognitive verbal responses and captures their emotional responses by monitoring changes in their facial expression,“ Khosla says.

MIXED EMOTIONS ABOUT THE EMOTIONAL SIDE

“The whole idea is to develop the emotional profile of candidates including their passion for the job and a behaviour profile, and benchmark this against an organisation’s best employees,” he says.

Some have mixed emotions about robots in the workplace. Paul Zauch, director of business development at recruiter Talent2, says the robots might drive efficiency in the early stages of recruitment but “at some point you want to be engaged by a human”.

“It’s a very emotive process. There will be a sector of candidates who would find it unusual”, he says.

Khosla insists robots will not replace humans conducting later stage interviews or employers making final hiring decisions.

The robots have already been well received in private homes to help dementia sufferers as part of a trial funded by Alzheimers Australia and supported by the City of Whittlesea.

The Australian Financial Review spoke to the husband of one dementia sufferer trialling the robot called Betty. Norm, who did not want his last name published, said, while researchers were tinkering with Betty’s voice recognition abilities and other functions “it’s an amazing little thing. My wife [says it] feels like it’s a human being … it certainly has improved her life.”

Khosla says the robots can be personalised to their “human partner” – whether that is reading the weather, shopping on the internet, reading aloud, or singing and dancing to different tunes (everything from Lady Gaga to Elvis Presley). The aim is to allow robots to remind people of their social engagements and to take their medicine.

“This is just the starting point in terms of the applications and services robots like Sophie can provide,” Khosla says.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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