Speed, AI, and reflections of the Human Insights Conference

Speed can be both a blessing and curse in the insights world. While stakeholders want answers to business questions yesterday, us researchers need to have space to think and reflect, so we can arrive at a level of understanding that hadn’t previously existed. Technology has a huge role to play in this, as we saw at The Research Society’s Human Insights Conference.


The conference in Melbourne clearly demonstrated how quickly the world of insights is evolving. So, I set about writing a recap to help me process all of this, which I had finished but I knew there was more to consider. I needed more time to think.


We are currently witnessing tremendous developments such as Generative AI, Predictive AI, Natural Language Processing, which are time-saving tools that can and will make aspects of our jobs easier. We’re even building out a roadmap for these in our analysis and reporting tool Harmoni, to augment the existing time-tested statistical algorithms that have been helping researchers for the past 33 years.


However, the conference highlighted to me that there are still plenty of questions that we haven’t answered as an industry. In light of all this innovation, are we simply trying to recreate the past in a digital world? Or are we creating new processes and capabilities that help us generate an even deeper understanding of consumers and our businesses?


The more I have thought about this, the more I am convinced that AI and technology is basically like your own personal PA. Think of it as a direct report that helps you in your daily lives rather than technology that’s ‘coming for your job’. The best part is that you don’t have to worry about the challenges of ‘managing people’ – it does the hard work for you (quickly at that too), helping direct where you should be looking, giving you extra time to let your curiosity examine your initial findings. And when you and your AI and tech solutions have finished, you get all the kudos.


As a researcher myself who works for a market research analysis platform, I’ve seen firsthand the evidence that AI and tech can make in the life of a market researcher. And I’m saying this not to sell our product, but just to highlight how much it can help if you give it a chance.


Some of the points questions I have that I’m still grappling with after attending the presentations, which I’d love to pick up with you at some stage include: 

  • Will the data provided by generative AI be accurate and valid? Do we need a separate margin of error or confidence level for these synthetic insights? When AI reports data that doesn't appear to be robust, as if made up, it's called data hallucination. We will still have to engage with the results to provide quality control which in our industry is crucial as data integrity is what we do. 
  • Will AI remain biased? We see many examples where AI will only provide bias responses because it hasn't yet acquired the full spectrum of knowledge. It will be particularly important when using AI to further our analysis that we know this as AI's knowledge will evolve with exposure to information. 
  • AI doesn't use understanding, but rather provides formulaic answers, so our jobs are not yet obsolete as one of the premises of insights is that we provide understanding. As market researchers, we’re the ones who have institutional knowledge of our customers, our organization, our employees, our products and services. So, it’s up to us how we will enrich, augment, and contextualise what technology serves us.
  • Privacy and security go hand in hand with deception. As technology evolves, it will be easy to trick AI by taking someone's identity, particularly via voice recognition and even steal someone's facial features. This is a serious matter when we talk about respondents and the role, they have in consumer research. The question is, will respondents be replaced by AI respondents, which in fact are not real people?


Many professionals in the field presented at the conference, from Toby Walsh renowned AI Scientist, Shara Evans futurist, Yabble and Qualtrics discussed how they have been using AI in their product offering. Nik Samoylov from Conjointly, who won the best presentation paper of the conference, has started a Campaign for AI safety, which highlights many of the challenges stated above and others that will likely appear as we progress with these tools. 


As I said, speed is a big plus for market researchers in this changing new world, helping us to speed up the mundane, repetitive aspects of our jobs, which gives us more time to think, to investigate, to interrogate our findings in our roles as insights professionals. And this is all thanks to the outstanding direct reports that are available to us through AI and technology.


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