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Will Market Research Get Caught With Our AI Pants Down?

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.



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…

Please share...

5 responses to “Will Market Research Get Caught With Our AI Pants Down?

  1. Two ways to look at it:

    1. Judging by how the research industry has led the way into the brave new world of mobile (har har), I suspect there will still be people doing automatable jobs in research by the 22nd century.

    2. The existing research industry will get squeezed on one side by tech cos who hire researchers and build knowledge into their platforms (focus of my presentation for IIeX) and on the other side by business consultants who have strategic and operational knowledge and experience that researchers don’t. I also think it’s going to open up more of the long tail in terms of revenue, even if it’s smaller dollars.

    It’s storytelling without the storytellers, and it is increasingly possible.

  2. You are quite right, JD. We are not that fast on the ball, but I think as an industry we are catching up! I’m an eternal optimist… we just need a few companies that start leading the way. And we need these issues discussed more broadly!

  3. hey thanks for the post Patricio. Over the last year I have had the experience you suggest : a traditional ad agency researcher/planner coming to grips with the new, no future world of AI. I am now engaged with an AI platform doing some really interesting work for a few clients in various countries. yes we have perhaps less staff and costs in some ways but one learning … clients will always need help understanding how to maximise the experience, and how to really use the results. goes back to the core issue of the MR industry of recent years : be intelligent consultants not just providers of techniques and execution.

  4. Let the AI or not the AI, and everything in between, carry on. I’m for AI to take care of the science, and (human) researchers to be the artists. MR needs both, but the artist will have to be the key. Otherwise, machines will be writing and telling stories to machines, while humans fly off to Mars. Well, that’s too strongly said, but I have a question: We talk of brands as if they are humans… Emotional connection and all… Can we then replace humans (researchers /consultants) from understanding brand-consumer relationships that are becoming increasingly complex?

  5. David, I couldn’t agree more. It may eventually happen, but it will definitely be a while until machines conquer our ‘art’. So it’s in the art that I’d suggest lies a big part of the answer that we are looking for. So, ‘artists-of-our-industry’ … let’s brainstorm and work together!

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