Blog: Is AI The Future Of Research? Empathy In The Age of AI.
What’s empathy got to do with consumer research? Everything — especially now that AI is reinventing so many aspects of marketing today.
AI can and will likely be performing many jobs across traditional market research, according to a recent Qualtrix report; it suggests that within the next 5–10 years, AI will take over tasks such as respondent recruiting and data cleaning.
Maybe it won’t be long before AI is not only cleaning up data, but actually moderating research, too. There are already glimmers of how this could happen when you consider customer service today — for companies like Booking.com, chatbots effectively dialogue with customers, consequently offering a seamless solution for both consumers and the company. And an even more telling example is Sophia; designed as a companion robot, it displays unnervingly human-like behavior, has become the world’s first robot citizen, and even given a speech at the UN.
So, it’s not a giant leap to consider that bots could be conducting qualitative research in the not too distant future, because it would be a faster, less expensive solution. But would it be better? Perhaps, not.
While AI may be able to gather more data and do it faster, it could come at a crucial hidden cost: empathy.
Empathy — the ability to understand and share the feelings of another — is something AI still hasn’t been able to truly crack. And it is essential to great qualitative research.
The difference between good and great qual is reading between the lines. It’s listening, not just to what consumers say, but how they say it; then interpreting what is shared and building on that to get to truly groundbreaking insights. That takes clever improvisation, agile creativity and a “good gut” seasoned by experience — all of which are connected to empathy. True empathy is the ability to not only understand consumers, but to pause, walk and rest in their shoes for a moment.
But what does this mean in the context of AI’s advent?
It means human empathy should remain foundational to qual research — even as AI advances. Yes, AI may be dabbling in the realm of emotion, but right now it cannot duplicate human empathy — and we don’t know if it ever will. What we can say for sure is that AI cannot offer a replacement for empathy in qual — but it can certainly be a wonderful adjunct tool. Leveraging the advantages of AI could empower researchers to conduct more complex, creative research that pulls in all sorts of data points. Could you imagine for a minute what questions we could ask and answer by combining the vast, growing knowledge of Sophia, the accuracy of AI medical diagnostics, and the empathy of a seasoned strategic researcher?
Combining AI with human empathy could get us to groundbreaking insights that lay the foundation for bigger, better ideas.