Last week, Amazon extended buyout offers to hundreds of its recruiters, infuriating and putting corporate employees across the company on edge. Now, Recode has viewed a confidential internal document that raises the question of whether the new artificial intelligence technology the company began experimenting with last year could one day replace some of these employees.
According to an October 2021 internal document labeled “Amazon Confidential,” the tech giant has been working for at least the past year to hand over some of its recruiters’ tasks to AI technology, which aims to assess which job applicants are specific and across the board. Warehouse jobs are successful 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 similarities between the resumes of current, high-performing Amazon employees and job applicants who have applied for similar jobs.
The technology, called internally automated applicant evaluation, or AAE, was built by a group in Amazon’s HR division called the Artificial Intelligence Recruitment Team and first tested last year. Amazon first built AI recruiting technology in the mid-2010s, but it stopped using its system after it was shown to be biased against women. In initial testing, Amazon’s HR department believes the new machine learning models are successfully protecting against biases based on race and gender, according to an internal document. Artificial intelligence has been widely used in hiring across industries in recent years, but questions remain about its role in introducing or exacerbating biases that may occur in hiring processes.
An Amazon representative did not provide comment prior to publication.
Amazon has invested over the years in automating 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 on the job, while increasing the speed and repeatability of their work. Amazon has continued to investigate other ways to automate its warehouses and introduce new robots as the company furloughs many frontline workers, fearing at times that it will run out of people to hire in some US regions. In its corporate division, Amazon previously implemented an initiative it called “hands off the wheel,” which took inventory ordering and other responsibilities out of the hands of retail division employees and turned them over to technology.
Now, with the creation and expanded use of AAE technology, the roles of recruiters at the second-largest private sector employer in the US will be permanently altered, effectively reducing the number of people Amazon needs to employ.
That is, when the company starts hiring again.
Amazon froze corporate hiring in early fall, and last week, The New York Times reported that Amazon would lay off nearly 10,000 workers, or 3 percent of its corporate staff, in the largest corporate job cuts in the company’s nearly three-decade history. Along with layoffs in the company’s Alexa and Amazon gadgets divisions, the The company sent purchase offers To large sections of the company’s HR department, including all low- and mid-level recruiters in the US and India. If employees voluntarily leave their jobs, Amazon offers three months’ pay plus one week’s salary for every six months of tenure with the company. These employees have until November 29 to decide on the offer. Division leaders said involuntary layoffs could also occur in the new year, depending on how many employees agree to voluntarily leave the company. Amazon CEO Andy Jassy has also said layoffs in the company’s core retail division will happen by 2023.
AAE’s technology removes a key role that some recruiters serve at Amazon, which is evaluating job applicants and selecting those to go on to job interviews. The program uses current employees’ performance reviews, information about their resumes, and any online job assessments they completed during their hiring process, to evaluate current job applicants for similar roles.
“[T]He model is achieving comparable accuracy to the manual process and does not demonstrate adverse impact,” the 2021 internal paper read.
The technology was first tested on applicants for medical representative roles at Amazon, working from 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 company-wide use in the future.
In the technology industry, there is a perception that 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, in part by making long-term bets that technology, and AI in particular, can do what humans do — and perhaps more cheaply.