FEATURE6 May 2020

Mind meets machine

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AI Features Impact Technology

Pitting humans against computers – particularly prevalent in market research, where automation and data analytics have shaken things up so much – is the wrong approach. In the latest Impact Report, Tim Phillips explores how the best insight is gained when the two work in harmony.


In 2008, Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired, and the populariser of the ‘long tail’ model of marketing that captured the imagination of a million start-ups, turned his attention to what he called the ‘petabyte age’. This would represent, he wrote, “the end of theory”.

“It calls for an entirely different approach, one that requires us to lose the tether of data as something that can be visualised in its totality. It forces us to view data mathematically first and establish a context for it later… Google’s founding philosophy is that we don’t know why this page is better than that one: if the statistics of incoming links say it is, that’s good enough. No semantic or causal analysis is required, ” he argued.

Anderson’s hypothesis was that models of the world, and therefore the people who create those models, would be redundant in the decision-making process if only we had enough data. It was a powerful argument in the early days of ...