Amazon’s new AI tool could take work away from workers facing layoffs and buybacks

Last week, Amazon extended buyout offers to hundreds of its employees in what is expected to be a months-long layoff cycle that has left corporate employees angry and on edge across the company. Now, Recode has seen a confidential internal document that raises the question of whether a new artificial intelligence technology the company began testing last year will one day replace some of these employees.

According to an October 2021 internal paper labeled “Amazon Confidential,” the tech giant has been working for at least the past year to hand over some of its recruiting jobs to an AI technology that aims to predict which job applicants will fit within specific corporates and across. . Warehouse jobs will succeed in a given role and fast-track them to an interview — without the involvement of a human recruiter. The technology works in part by finding matches between the resumes of current, high-performing Amazon employees and job applicants applying for similar jobs.

The technology, known internally as Automated Applicant Evaluation, or AAE, was developed by a group in Amazon’s HR department called the Artificial Intelligence Recruitment Team and was first tested last year. Amazon first developed AI recruiting technology in the mid-2010s but stopped using the system after it was shown to be biased against women.

In an initial test, Amazon’s HR department believed the new machine learning models successfully protected against bias based on race and gender, according to internal documents. Artificial intelligence has become more widely used in hiring across industries in recent years, but there are questions about its role in introducing or amplifying biases that may occur in hiring processes.

An Amazon spokeswoman did not comment ahead of publication.

Amazon has invested heavily over the years in trying to automate a variety of tasks. In 2012, the company acquired Kiva, a warehouse robotics company whose robots reduce the need for warehouse workers to walk miles while simultaneously increasing the speed and repeatability of their work.

Amazon continues to research other ways to automate its warehouses and introduce new robots, as the company churns through so many front-line workers that it sometimes fears a lack of people to hire in some parts of the United States. In its corporate arm, Amazon previously implemented an initiative called “hands off the wheel” that took inventory ordering and other responsibilities out of the hands of retail employees and turned them over to technology.

Now, with the creation and increased use of AAE technology, the role of recruiters within the second largest private sector employer in the US could be permanently changed, potentially reducing the number of people Amazon needs to hire.

That is, if the company starts hiring again.

Amazon instituted a corporate hiring freeze in early fall and, just last week, The New York Times reported that Amazon would lay off about 10,000 workers, or 3 percent of its corporate workforce, in what would be the largest series of corporate job cuts in the company’s nearly three-decade history. In addition to layoffs in the company’s Alexa and Amazon gadget divisions, The company has sent an offer to buy To a large part of the company’s HR department, including all lower and mid-level recruiters in the US and India. If employees voluntarily leave their jobs, Amazon is offering the company three months’ pay and one week’s pay for every six-month period. These employees have until November 29 to decide on the offer.

Department leaders said involuntary layoffs could occur in the new year, depending on how many employees voluntarily agree to leave the company. Amazon CEO Andy Jassy also said the company’s core retail division will be cut in 2023.

AAE technology removes a key role that some recruiters serve at Amazon, which is evaluating job applicants and choosing which ones to move on to job interviews. This program uses current employees’ performance reviews, their resumes, and any online job evaluation information during their hiring process, to evaluate current job applicants for similar roles.

“[T]His model is achieving accuracies comparable to the manual process and shows no evidence of adverse effects,” reads the 2021 internal research paper.

The technology was first tested on applicants for medical representative roles at Amazon, who work out of the company’s warehouse network. But since then, it has been used to select job applicants for roles ranging from software development engineers to technical program managers, opening up the possibility of wider future use across companies.

Within the tech industry, there is a realization that the Big Tech Boom may be over. In many cases, pandemic-fueled business success has reversed or plateaued. Now, tech titans like Amazon are looking to tighten their belts, seemingly offering a long-term bet that technology, and especially AI, can do what humans do — and perhaps more cheaply.