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If you’re like most people these days, you are checking the news continuously for updates surrounding the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). In fact, many are saying news consumption itself has risen by more than 50% in recent days. Data on the spread of the disease is being tracked by an app developed by a 17-year-old Seattle high schooler, unlikely collaborations and, of course, advanced AI-driven solutions, which are also being applied to finding solutions

I was lucky enough to participate recently in the online Festival of #NewMR conference, during the Futuring Friday session for the APAC region. I spoke about the power of machines, and the perceived tension between machines and human creativity in the market research industry. Mechanical processes that used to require humans are being automated all the time. What do we do in the face of this kind of change? 

There are, of course, things that only humans can offer when it comes to insights generation, such as big picture thinking and placing things in context. Right now, we can likely say that “creativity” falls into this category. However, that may change, and faster than we think. If we look at creativity as bringing together different ideas, concepts or facts to make something new or novel, the obvious retort is that machines will be able to do it better than we do – only a matter of time.

Machines can already create a unique piece of music for individuals or even create artwork. One need only to watch the futuristic HBO series, Westworld, to see where we may be headed. There will always be a need for human-level creativity in our industry, but we can see the writing on the wall: machines are going to start to apply what appears to be creativity when it comes to processing data. I maintain that we need to be aware that transitioning to that future will have many implications for the people in the industry. 

It is easy to overstate what AI is and what it can do. However, it can take in a massive amount of data, apply algorithms and produce an output. This is not within human power, just simply because of the sheer volume of data coming at us right now. When it comes to AI, just because we don’t have it yet, doesn’t mean we won’t in the future.

So when will the transition happen? On our watch or for future generations of insights professionals? One of my fellow panel members took a guess that we have about five years until our reality shifts, and another encouraged researchers to not compete with machines, but instead focus on making these machines more efficient.  

In a world that is experiencing the most massive change that we’ve ever seen in our lifetime, machines have the ability to keep us informed, educated and updated in real-time. The value of this kind of technology application has become more apparent than ever before as we track the COVID-19 news cycles. When the dust settles, the market research industry promises to continue moving toward the future with further applications of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other technology. It will definitely change our roles and necessary job skills. It’s important to continue to track developments, nurture the efficiencies that the right tech can deliver, and find a streamlined path to a future where humans and machines work in harmony to uncover valuable insights.

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