Editor’s Note: This post is part of our Big Ideas Series, a column highlighting the innovative thinking and thought leadership at IIeX events around the world. Patricio Pagani will be speaking at IIeX North America (June 13-15 in Atlanta). If you liked this article, you’ll LOVE IIeX NA. Click here to learn more.
By Patricio Pagani
In his recent provocative posting AI will change your insight job more than you think, Ray Poynter reflects that our industry has become complacent about the impact of automation on our jobs.
The consensus of our industry ‘seems to be that jobs up for automation will tend to be the lower level ones – those we’ve traditionally outsourced, or re-located to a lower-cost operation in a remote location on the planet.
However, I tend to agree with Ray that the impact is going to be much larger than we expect. It’s encouraging to learn that I’m not alone in thinking there’s a tsunami of change ahead. And that we need to try and tame the beast, before the beast tames us.
The hidden costs of increased productivity
A few weeks ago I was honored to be invited to a small business leaders’ seminar in Argentina. One of the founding professors of the Singularity University was leading the debate. The hot topic of the session was the consequences of artificial intelligence (AI) automating jobs… everywhere, anywhere.
We discussed the impact of a joint study by Oxford University and Citibank called ‘The future is not what it used to be’. In commenting on the study, the Financial Times entitled their article: ‘Rise of the robots threatens the poor’, and Business Insider went even further to say ’Robots will steal your job: How AI could increase unemployment and inequality’.
To summarize the challenge, the study claims that machines threaten to replace between a quarter and a half of the world’s jobs in the next decade. Entire cities and countries could become economically in-viable. The manual-intensive economies of developing markets will suffer the most.
Experts believe automation will increase the world’s productivity, but displaced workers will need to find alternative ways to earn a living or social unrest will prevail. Experts agree education is the most effective way to mitigate the negative impact of automation. In developing markets, however, education is a challenge in itself.
If you are interested in the topic I suggest you make up your own mind, as any good researcher should do, by reading the original paper.
The issue is personal
At the small business leaders’ seminar, I put the case on the table for market research. AI has a huge impact, pretty much along the lines of what is described above. In particular I was arguing for what AI would do to data processing, automating the work of hundreds of coders and re-coders. The issue is very close to my heart, since it’s a big part of what we do at Infotools.
The discussion soon turned into an ethical one. Which is where I think it got super-interesting, and very tricky! What happens in an industry where 60% of current jobs will be automated in five years? And if it’s true that new jobs being created only total 20%, what’s the future of those remaining?
If re-education is the answer, what should we re-educate on? What are the skills that won’t be that easy to automate?
But it gets worse… of course we know these questions are not exclusive to the market research industry. If 60% of jobs across all industries are ’automatable’ in the same way they are in ours, what will people be doing?
Calling market researchers to step up to the plate
As business leaders of an industry that we know is going to change and leave a lot of people behind as ‘castaways’, I think we have a huge responsibility:
Firstly, we should anticipate and lead the change. If we don’t, someone else is going to lead it for us, and our ‘displaced’ people will be left behind.
Secondly, we have no choice but to get involved in solving the problem. Clients have been demanding ‘faster, cheaper, better’ for a while and whether we like it or not, that’s not going to stop. If anything, it will get worse, and the easiest way to achieve ‘faster, cheaper, better’ with something that is repetitive, is to automate it.
And thirdly, once their jobs are automated, what alternatives are there for our people and their futures?
Difficult, isn’t it?
I don’t know the answers. Ray hinted that the more creative the jobs, the harder they would be to automate. I agree. For years we have been saying that research is a blend of art and science… let’s allow the machines to run the science, and as market researchers we can add ‘art’ to the mix.
That means we should start recruiting and training research artists. Are our industry, our clients, and our companies prepared to face the big transformation that this will require?
I’d love to hear what everyone thinks…