Amazon last week extended buyout offers to hundreds of its recruiters in what is expected to be a months-long layoff cycle that will left employees across the company angry and nervous. Now Recode has seen a confidential internal document that raises questions about whether a new artificial intelligence technology the company began experimenting with last year will ever replace some of those employees.
According to an October 2021 internal article titled “Amazon Confidential,” the tech giant has been working for at least the past year to outsource some of its recruiters’ tasks to AI technology that aims to predict which job candidates in some companies and warehouse jobs will succeed in a given role and lead them quickly to an interview – without the intervention of a human recruiter. The technology works in part by finding similarities between the resumes of current, successful Amazon employees and those of applicants for similar jobs.
The technology, known internally as Automated Applicant Assessment, or AAE, was developed by a group in Amazon’s HR division known as the Artificial Intelligence Recruiting Team and has been tested for the first time last year. Amazon first developed AI-based hiring technology in the mid-2010s, but stopped using his system after showing bias against women.
In an initial test, Amazon’s HR division found that the new machine learning models successfully protected against biases based on race and gender, according to the internal document. Artificial intelligence has become more widely used in hiring in all industries in recent years, but questions remain about its role in introducing or amplifying biases that can arise in hiring processes.
An Amazon spokesperson had no comment before publication.
Amazon has invested heavily for years in trying to automate different types of work. In 2012, the company acquired a warehouse robotics company called Kiva, whose robots reduced the need for warehouse workers to travel miles on the job, but simultaneously increased the pace and repetitiveness of their work.
Amazon continued to research other ways to automate its warehouses and present new robotsin part because the company employs so many front-line workers that it sometimes has worried about running out of people to hire in some parts of the United States. In its corporate wing, Amazon previously implemented an initiative called “hands on the wheel” that took inventory ordering and other responsibilities out of the hands of employees in the retail division and handed them over to technology.
Now, with the creation and widespread use of AAE technology, the roles of recruiters within the second largest private sector employer in the United States could be permanently changed, potentially reducing the number of people Amazon must employ.
That is, when the company starts hiring again.
Amazon instituted a hiring freeze in early fall, and last week the New York Times reported that Amazon would lay off about 10,000 workers, or 3% of its staff, in what would be the biggest round of job cuts in the company’s nearly three-decade history. Along with layoffs in the company’s Alexa and Amazon gadget divisions, the the company has sent takeover offers to large swaths of the company’s HR division, including all lower and mid-level recruiters in the US and India. If employees voluntarily leave their jobs, Amazon offers three months’ pay plus one week’s pay for every six months with the company. These employees must decide on the offer by November 29.
Division executives said involuntary layoffs could still occur in the new year, depending in part on how many employees agree to voluntarily leave the company. Amazon CEO Andy Jassy also said layoffs in the company’s main retail division would take place through 2023.
AAE technology removes a key role that some recruiters fill at Amazon, which is to assess job candidates and decide which ones should go on to interview. The program uses performance reviews of current employees, along with information from their resumes and any online job reviews they conducted during their hiring process, to evaluate current candidates for similar positions.
“[T]The model achieves an accuracy comparable to that of the manual process and does not show any negative impact,” reads the 2021 internal document.
The technology was first tested on candidates for medical representative positions at Amazon, who work from the company’s network of warehouses. But since then it has been used to screen candidates for positions ranging from software development engineers to technical program managers, opening up the possibility of widespread future use across the enterprise.
Within the technology industry, we realize that the The Big Tech Boom May Be Over. In many cases, pandemic-fueled business successes have reversed or plateaued. Now, tech titans like Amazon are looking to tighten their belts, apparently in part by making long-term bets that technology, and AI in particular, can do what humans do — and can. -be at a lower cost.