OPINION29 August 2017

Machines may do the learning, but people do the teaching

AI Innovations Opinion Technology

Just how at risk are market researchers from seeing artificial intelligence and machines take over their insight duties? By Patricio Pagani

Computer science has been around for a while, but it’s become yawn-worthy to say the least. Start talking about artificial intelligence though, and people perk up.

Somewhere in the convergence of these fields lies machine learning – or ‘giving computers the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed'.

For the market researcher, this means we can finally do what we’ve been trying to do for decades – efficiently analyse data from multiple sources. Rather than having to reprogram information piece-by-piece as new data is added, new innovations in technology allow the computer – or machine – to remember basic tasks and do them automatically. Even 20 years ago, this just wasn’t possible. We didn’t have the technology to do what we knew needed to be done. We couldn’t get the spicy insights.

Studies and commentary are absorbing the airwaves telling us how likely humans are to lose their jobs to technology like machine learning and automation. In fact, someone has created a program to evaluate – in percentage form – just how likely you are to lose your job to a machine.

The web-based tool (which has been described as ‘amusing’ by some, but to others, is anything but), dubbed “Will Robots Take my Job” feeds this fear. If you type in  'market researcher', a variety of roles pop up. They range in risk from 20%-60%.

But when you really put it to logic, the heart of market research will likely remain human. We cannot be rendered inconsequential unless we stop asking the question ‘why?’ – our basic mission in market research. Machines can certainly handle the ‘what?’ – algorithms that make predictive assumptions – but the ‘why?’ is much more difficult for a machine with no emotional intelligence. Natural curiosity cannot be programmed. By handling the basic tasks that we teach our robots, these machines will simply give us more time to deep-dive into data and find out what it’s telling us.

That said, our roles are certainly poised for a shift, but as Twitter would say, #shifthappens. So, perhaps it’s better to prepare for a partnership with machines.

If we want to start preparing for a new world of automation, we’ll need to be more strategic about our approach to building careers and businesses. Certainly, you can make a winning bet that anything that can be automated, will (self-checkout, anyone?). But things that are innately human – curiosity, empathy, human connection and creativity – can never be replaced.

The necessity of human connection in business ensures there will always be a place for red-blooded resources. Perhaps we will see less degrees walking out of universities in certain areas of market research – no one wants to be replaced by an algorithm – but the primary purpose of our industry is to understand human behaviour the way only our own species can, and that’s not going to change any time soon.

Patricio Pagani is a company director at Infotools