Is it scary when Google Docs tells you that you misspelled a word? Or do you feel a shiver of anxiety every time you see a stoplight?

Probably not. Yet these are each examples of how machines have replaced human jobs: proofreaders in one case and traffic intersection cops in the other. 

THE COLLATERAL DAMAGE OF AUTOMATION

Technology replacing human labor has made us uneasy since the industrial revolution. The wake of capitalism is littered with thousands of jobs made obsolete by technology: lectors, lamplighters, elevator operators, ice cutters, haberdashers, gong farmers and town criers. The very fact that you have never actually needed a shoesmith means that its extinction was probably the right move by the invisible hand of economic natural selection.

The job-killing machine automation of the past is considered progress. But AI, the new strand of machine automation emerging from glass conference rooms in Silicon Valley, feels more ominous. After all, it’s not threatening quarrymen, it’s threatening quants.

DOES THE MARKET RESEARCH INDUSTRY WANT AI DISRUPTION?

With its emphasis on reporting, analysis, statistics and neat rows and columns, the market research industry could be a candidate ripe for AI disruption. We know disruption is coming. The question is will it be destructive or creative?

Much of the uncertainty around AI is because “intelligence” is so broad – there’s no sphere of life it doesn’t touch. From transportation to fashion to marketing and communications, AI has a profound impact on the way we work and live. We’re only in the infancy of AI and already we’re having semi-real conversations with our phones, using chatbots to book flights and letting LiDAR-equipped cars drive us to work. In one fascinating demo from Google, engineers used AI to schedule a salon appointment over the phone without the receptionist even realizing she was talking to software. Turing Test A+.

BIG QUESTIONS LOOM ABOUT AI AND MARKET RESEARCH

We’re no longer talking about the extinction of pinsetters in bowling alleys, we’re now staring at the extinction of (gasp!) white-collar jobs. And not just any white collar jobs, the pinnacle of white-collar jobs: Analytical Thinkers. For the market research industry, there are real questions about how AI will impact jobs:

  • What happens when AI knows how and when to run a regression?
  • Who will be unnecessary once AI can read and understand the nuance of speech as well as humans?
  • Which jobs will be redundant once software can stitch together X data (experience data) and O data (operational data) to tell the whole story of your brand’s health?
  • How will survey design change when surveys are conversations with a smart speaker instead of typed with a device?
  • In the future will your blender ask if you would recommend it to a friend or colleague?
  • What will analysts do when computers can autonomously collect and crunch data better than left-brained humans?

This may be what Elon Musk means when he says that unleashing AI is “summoning the demon”. Like Pixar’s Wall-e (which by the way was largely animated with AI), is it just a matter of time until market research professionals just joyride all day on hover-scooters sipping soda?

Nope. At least not according to a June 2018 survey of 250 market research professionals.

NEW FINDINGS ABOUT AI AND MARKET RESEARCH

Researchers are actually optimistic about the effect AI will have on the industry in the new survey report from Qualtrics, a leading market research platform used by over 8,600 brands.

While survey respondents were positive about the prospect of AI in their industry, 93% of respondents said that AI is an opportunity for market research, that optimism was tempered by uncertainty as only 30% said they know what AI’s impact will be.

Is Artificial Intelligence Good for the Market Research Industry?

Researchers’ attitudes were upbeat overall…

  • 80% say AI will make a positive impact on the market research industry. Both older and younger researchers share this view.

But not necessarily because they expect AI to create a wave of new jobs...

  • 26% say AI will create more market research jobs than today while 35% believe it will reduce the overall number of jobs. 39% don’t think it will change the job market.

Which Market Research Jobs are Threatened by AI?

  • Researchers say AI is most likely to make support and analysis jobs redundant, such as:
    • Market Research Assistant (97%)
    • Statistician (95%)
    • Research Analyst (94%)
    • Data Scientist (65%)
    • Market Analyst (60%)

Which Market Research Jobs are safe?

  • Researchers say AI is least likely to kill strategic and qualitative jobs, such as:
    • VP of Market Research (99%)
    • Product Manager (99%)
    • Market Research Project Manager (75%)
    • Customer Insights Manager (71%)
    • Ethnographic Researcher (45%)

Which Market Research Tasks are Likely to be Managed by AI and which will not?

  • 63% say AI will take over data analysis within 10 years
  • Researchers say 26% of surveys will be spoken (instead of typed) within 5 years, but 74% believe spoken surveys will yield lower data quality
  • Researchers don’t think common survey-design tools will change as a result of AI
  • The tasks that researchers most want to hand over to AI are localizing surveys for different countries and data cleaning
  • 40% of researchers expect AI to explain survey findings within 10 years
  • 75% say that the data produced through AI will be more accurate than it is today

MARKET RESEARCH - WHERE MAN AND MACHINE CAN COEXIST

Making room for artificial intelligence means adapting to a major new digital presence in the industry. To adapt, 50% of market researchers have considered additional training, and a minority are even leaving the industry entirely, shifting to fields such as marketing, computer science, entrepreneurship and teaching. Twenty-two percent of respondents  even say that AI will probably do their job better than they can within 10 years.

But on balance, most respondents plan to stay right where they are and focus on evolving their skillset to adapt.

One of the top ways researchers expect to adapt their value in a world in which AI crunches numbers faster and better is focus more on making research-based recommendations to business leaders.

Market research is fertile ground for machines and man to co-exist because it’s a discipline of both the left and right brain. It blends statistics, analysis and data structures with language, psychology and complex human behaviors.

It’s both art and science. It’s both numbers and emotion. It’s both quant and qual. It’s both data and gut.

Together, AI and human researchers complement each other to turn data into information. Information into insights. Insights into actions. And actions into experiences.

With AI spitting out correlations, humans have more time to understand connections. With AI churning out lists of key drivers, humans have more time to investigate why those drivers are important. With AI sifting through text feedback, humans have more time to synthesize big ideas and spread them through organizations.

According to Jay Choi, Head of Research Core at Qualtrics,  “Artificial Intelligence should make us more intelligent. AI’s job isn’t to think better than humans, it’s to help humans think better.”

For the market research industry, helping humans to “think better” with AI means asking better questions, mining deeper insights, making smarter decisions, dreaming bigger ideas and building richer customer experiences. 

A dawn of disruption is breaking, but most believe it’s a dawn of creation, not destruction.

See the full results of Qualtrics’ report: How AI Will Reinvent The Market Research Industry