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The Festival of AI and emerging technology: CognitionX 2019!

Updated: Jul 18, 2019

There was a buzz in Kings Cross on the 10th-12th June 2019 as the CogX festival tents went up and the technology enthusiasts flew in! Of course, the Veran team were among the flock and ready to explore the hundreds of exhibitors and network with professionals passionate about creating an intelligent back office. With 500 speakers from across industries and academia, we were split with a great diversity of choice of keynote speeches, panel discussions and technology demonstrations, providing insight into the future of AI and technology from different angles.

We spent most of our time at the Future of Work & Education stage to learn more about how AI is and will continue to disrupt the HR space.

Practical experience and insight were shared by Unilever’s Leena Nair, whose energy and enthusiasm brightened the rainy first day. They have deployed Degreed; a recommendation engine that collates internal and external training to offer personalised daily suggestions for learning and development. They are also answering 800,000 searches every month to Una Bot; their helpdesk bot who answers FAQs using Natural Language Processing. Finally, Leena is delighted with the constantly changing screens in her office analysing the sentiment and tone of the business. This gives real time insight into how different teams or locations are feeling and what Unilever can do to support its employees.

We then watched a panel discussion on ‘How AI is changing leadership development’ chaired by our friend Anton Fishman, an AI educator, business advisor and organisational consultant. He facilitated a lively conversation with founders and employees of emerging AI organisations (Humu, Winning Minds, LeaderAMP and Spot), discussing how different organisations are truly reinventing the HR space. Here are some of the examples:

Coaching leaders

Learning and development takes many forms throughout an organisation, from self-paced online courses, to internal training and advice from experts which provides the advantage of being tailored to an individual and the organisation. But what if online training and personalised expert advice could be combined?

The panel outlined that up until recently, 1-1 coaching has typically been reserved for the C-suite and executives due to cost, time and availability constraints. LeaderAmp are leveraging AI to mass produce what has been considered exclusive. Using machine learning, they have scaled personalised coaches to all employees, able to target an individual’s training needs and provide personalised support to transform how learning and development takes place and the employee experience. AI is proving to blur the lines of formal and informal learning and provides the opportunity for employees to receive continuous unintrusive feedback and support.

Doing what you want, when you want

When are you most productive? Are you a morning or afternoon person? I know for me, I am most productive when starting my day with the most labour-intensive tasks on my list. I just get more done that way. Now consider how productive a workforce could be if able to prioritise when to work on what.

Of course when an unavoidable influx of a high priority workload comes in, that doesn’t leave employees with much choice other than to do what needs doing. But when it comes to more manageable responsibilities, Humu have designed an AI based system that can learn and track employee behaviours to identify patterns of increased or reduced efficiency. The system has been based on ‘nudge theory’; a theory rooted in behavioural science which promotes the use of positive reinforcement and direct suggestions as a way to influence behaviour and decision making. In practice, employees who are recognised as being more productive in the mornings can be provided with a series of recommendations and reminders to prioritise tasks that would be ideal to do for them to complete at that time. This can be coupled with learning and development opportunities but can also transform employee performance and engagement. The changes in tech are driving the need for an expanding mindset in how we see the workplace!

Empowering the workforce against harassment

The panel also introduced us to an incredibly novel chatbot developed, Spot. The bot was designed to interview victims of workplace harassment and discrimination based on memory science and AI, provide completely anonymity in reporting, an unbiased response and is programmed to respond appropriately to sensitive situations.

The more people we networked with at the event and in the public, we often came across 2 general concerns. Firstly, that robots could make our roles as humans redundant, and secondly, are robots as valuable as humans given their inability to feel emotion? Coincidently, the second concern answers the first one quite nicely. True emotion is unique to humans and provides us with an invaluable purpose, but in situations where unbiased anonymity is needed, we see the advantage of robots over humans, highlight that a partnership between the two is the way to go. In fact, the organisation’s cofounder, Dr Julia Shaw, couldn’t sum it better in saying that “Good AI makes humans feel more human”.

A key message that really resonated with us was: Don’t wait until you have the perfect AI solution, or it seems like the perfect time for it.

CogX has demonstrated how rapidly AI is disrupting and transforming HR, so it’s vital to get stuck in as soon as possible, given that there will always be new and evolving developments.

Veran can identify your most compelling opportunities for Automation and AI in HR and provide a cost-benefit analysis and mini deployment plans in just 6 weeks. Get in touch to apply this assessment in your organisation and you could be on the stage at next year’s CognitionX festival of AI.

To find out more, please email


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