Back to the Future II debuted 30 years ago with flying drones, fingerprint scanners, smart glasses, and video phones. Many thought that technology was far-fetched, but here we are in 2018 with phones that order our groceries and glasses that can give us the news. (We’re still waiting on Jaws 19 and that hoverboard.)

Perhaps most intriguing, though, are the movie’s artificial intelligence scenes: facial recognition, personalized interactive marketing, and cafe service robots. Are researchers walking the same path as Back to the Future’s waiters? Is AI coming for knowledge workers next?

According to new research, yes.

At Qualtrics, we noticed slim search results on how AI is beginning to affect market researchers, so we asked 250 research decision makers in North America how they believe AI will impact the industry. Do they think machine learning in market research means that humans with knowledge are no longer useful, or will better tools accelerate the industry?

AI platform services will cannibalize revenues for 30% of market-leading companies

Knowledge work is changing fast. The Associated Press has automatically created corporate earnings reports since July of 2014. The AI technology they use is generating 3,000 stories about U.S. corporate earnings per quarter. And in 2017, JP Morgan used software to replace 360,000 hours of human document review.

And the pace is quickening. According to Gartner, by 2019, “startups will overtake Amazon, Google, IBM, and Microsoft in driving the AI economy … and AI platform services will cannibalize revenues for 30% of market-leading companies.” Just a few examples: Researchers at startup Persado analyze data with semantic algorithms to determine which email headlines will get the best response by parsing past email messages. Pinterest Lens uses your phone camera to detect real world items and make in-app suggestions based off those items.

90% of the jobs humans used to do have already been taken over by technology.

Automation disrupted blue-collar jobs. Now AI is coming for white-collar jobs. Or at least white-collar tasks.

Is market research immune? No.

AI Is Slicing Up Market Research

Today, farmers don’t pick much corn; they focus on running GPS-guided combines. Railroaders don’t shovel coal; they monitor the computer system driving their train up the hill. Factory workers rarely assemble precision parts by hand; they tend to the robots on the production lines. In fact, 90% of the jobs humans used to do have already been taken over by technology.

The same is happening in research. Market researchers rarely want to do data scrubbing or program survey logic. And soon they won’t. They’ll let AI automate the tedium, and they’ll get to focus on the findings.

Twenty-six percent of market researcher decision-makers say AI will create more market research jobs than today while 35% believe it will reduce the overall number of jobs. They rest say it’s a wash.

Most of the researchers Qualtrics in the study see AI as an industry opportunity and believe it will make a positive impact. Both older and younger researchers share this view.

As computers become smarter, researchers will be able to hand over mundane tasks such as localizing questions for different countries, data cleaning, and programming surveys. Imagine what researchers could get done if they had to spend less time on mundane tasks, and more time on turning research into action.

Robots and Soft Skills

In market research, as AI automates data gathering and analysis, the focus of a researcher can move to interpretation and communication of the results. In fact, 94% of executives in a Recode survey felt that with automation of administrative tasks, the need for soft skills will grow. The machines let you be you.

Even with the rise of AI and tech in the last 10 years, the most in-demand jobs skills still center on effective oral and written communication. In order to stay relevant, market researchers must focus on improving their soft skills.

For more proof: Among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, most of them are soft skills. And STEM expertise came in last. The four top characteristics are: being a good coach, communicating and listening well, possessing insights into others, and having empathy. That supports the idea that AI will make companies more human. With mundane tasks completed, employees can focus on personalization through soft skills, such as communication and empathy.

As AI gathers more information, the interpretation of that information will require highly skilled professionals.

Embracing AI in Market Research

The same Recode survey found that companies that automated 70% of their business processes were six times more likely to have 15%-per-year revenue growth than a group that automated less than 30% of their business processes. This hints that automation of market research can create more jobs, rather than take them away. As AI gathers more information, the interpretation of that information will require highly skilled professionals.

Market researchers have to be prepared. While some are preparing to adjust their roles to check the accuracy of AI-produced data, others are preparing to completely switch careers. 12% have considered a career change out of market research to protect their job from AI (marketing, computer programming and teaching are popular choices).

AI automation will allow your market research team to generate more customer insights, and provide your customers with more value. And maybe, eventually, it will help create that hoverboard. To see more original research on AI in market research, download our eBook.

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