Our next colleague will be a robot

On March 15 2016, Google’s DeepMind Artificial Intelligence (AI) system won the battle against the Go world champion. In the final match, the AlphaGo made a miscalculation early in the game, yet was able to recover from its error thanks to its self-learning capabilities. If AI can win an Asian game famous for its deep complexity, endless moves and strategic thinking, how long will it take for AI to digest and analyze market research data and replace our (researchers’) jobs?
During our latest internal Congress, InSites colleagues took the stage to discuss the matter. The main question the debate was centered around, was “Will our next colleagues be robots?”. Three key take-aways from this discussion.

1. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when

According to an Oxford study, there is a 61% chance that the market research analyst job will be replaced by robots in the next 20 years. 20 years? That seems a bit pessimistic (or optimistic depending on how you consider the matter) in our opinion. Looking back twenty years, in 1996, Google did not even exist and Wi-Fi was still SciFi.
With the fast pace at which the digital landscape is evolving, it’s definitely not a matter of if but when. And that when is just around the corner, considering AI’s capabilities at present. We may not always be fully aware, but Robotics Technology and Artificial Intelligence have already emerged in our daily lives. Just think of the virtual personal assistants Siri and Cortana on a smartphone or the algorithms behind the personalized recommendations on Spotify or Netflix. Our smartphones, cars, banks and even our house are all using Artificial Intelligence, so it is only a matter of time before it will become more present in research as well.

2. It’s an opportunity, not a threat

Similar to when, during the industrial revolution, mankind was afraid machinery would take over manual labor in factories or when the first computer entered an office, our fear for the unknown may perceive robots as a threat. Yet, as Seth Godin puts it, “Change is not a threat, it’s an opportunity. Survival is not the goal; transformative success is.”.
At InSites Consulting, innovation is at the core of what we do, and as such so is embracing new technologies and new evolutions. The discussion made clear that this is truly embedded in our DNA and that we will not wait until it hits us, but rather (keep) proactively look(ing) for the opportunities it can bring.
The past years, many innovations within the research industry were in the field of automation and this will for sure accelerate in the years ahead. Today we already have algorithms assisting in automated text analysis or software that can tag and digest visual stimuli. However, these systems are merely following the instructions which have been programmed, with already a first few integrating self-learning capabilities. Yet it is clear that AI will evolve from following instructions to taking independent decisions. Think about what opportunities this may bring for our industry.

3. The power is in the mix

Time will tell whether robots will fully replace many of our professional tasks. Nevertheless, AI’s capabilities keep on growing and although it is clear that the integration of Robot Technology in our daily lives will be valuable, the true challenge for us, humans, will be about re-finding balance. What will we do when AI helps us processing time-intensive and repetitive tasks like (e-mail) communication, data analysis, reporting…? For most of us, this will entail having to re-invest more than half of our time in doing things AI cannot do (for now).
In essence, it will be about understanding what are our strengths and uniquenesses are as humans and identify gaps where these can make a difference when collaborating with AI. Today our uniquenesses may lie in things like our emotions, social component and creativity, yet this will for sure evolve and change together with AI’s growing capabilities. Already today, there are robots that create artwork, one example being Picassnake, a bot draped in a green snake toy that paints on music, resulting in abstract art creations.

Understanding and adapting our strengths alongside AI’s growing capabilities will bring research to the next level. Our jobs will change, not disappear. Whether it’s in the shape of a physical robot or not, AI will become our partner in crime to define the future of research. We will need to form a unique collaboration, where humans and AI run in tandem. Jointly, we are convinced we will be able to analyze more, better and faster, leading to newer, fresher and richer insights for our clients. Because we believe the power is in the mix and in order to build these synergies we will have to adapt alongside technology.

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