Will AI replace human insight in market research?

Martin Talks

Martin Talks


Martin is an entrepreneur, business advisor and member of the Liveminds Advisory Board. He advises businesses on technology: how to use it and how not to use it. Follow him at @talksy.

In the latest post in our series by industry experts, Martin Talks from Matomico tells us that despite the rise of artificial intelligence, it’s not game over yet for human market research.

Recently we heard about the death death of Marvin Minsky, the artificial intelligence pioneer. He viewed the brain as a machine whose functions could be replicated in a computer. And he is not alone in this dream. Companies like Google, Facebook and IBM share it.

Google has grandly named an initiative the Google Brain Project and regularly releases news of the successes of its DeepMind technology in beating humans at games. Davos 2016 too fuelled the excitement with its predictions of robots taking our jobs, adding to earlier predictions by the Bank of England. And our screens are full of images of super-powerful computers from Terminator to Ex Machina, Transcendence to Her, I Robot to Humans.

But despite all this excitement, and indeed hype, we are still a long way off replicating the complexity of the human brain. It is the most complex organism we have yet discovered in the universe and its mysteries are still being revealed. It is what makes us human, makes us who we are and creates our own personal perception of the world around us.

Artificial intelligence is brilliant at crunching data. A massively valuable capability in a world that seems to be drowning in the stuff. IBM Watson has shown itself more capable of diagnosing cancer than health care professionals. But then 1 in 3 people who take life saving drugs for such conditions as cancer stop taking them after a few months. To understand why we make the decisions we make, requires a human understanding, a human sense. Marvin Minsky wanted, in his words: “to impart to machines the human capacity for commonsense reasoning”. But we are a long way from that happening. Until then humans still play a central role in market research.

Artificial intelligence is increasingly important for analysing data and there are now an increasing number of AI as-a-service offerings available. And there are companies like Liveminds who will recruit research participants on Facebook and enable connections on its qualitative research platform. But it is still humans who are generating the insight. DeepMind may have won the arcade games, but for now the human brain is still winning at human understanding.

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