Life After AI: A Thought from a Qualitative Researcher

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Life After AI: A Thought from a Qualitative Researcher

This morning, a good friend of mine just wrote that through marketing research, he learned a lot about life. Initially I shared some excerpts from the fascinating "Poor Economics" book from the recent Noble winner Abhijit Banerjee & Esther Duflo, and the discussion is rolling further about ethnography projects that he did many years ago about the bottom of the pyramid consumers.

He is no longer working as qualitative researcher, but he is still very fascinated to share his stories of the Indonesian poor. He told us about the story of a man who lives in a small kampung in suburban Jakarta who had to save money for three months only to bring his family to Depok Mall, just to feel the AC, ride elevators and see water fountain. How coffee is served in a large beer glass at home for his son to have the first sip before going to school, then the father while enjoying the morning, and then the last sip for the mother while cleaning up. Which was the very reason why Indonesian "kopi tubruk" or ground coffee has to be longer lasting and taste good even after sitting in room temperature for hours.

At Illuminate Asia, we recently conducted a self-funded study about Indonesian "Alay" - teenagers from poor families who are often overlooked by the society because they are always stereotyped as tacky and hopeless. We meet a street busker who tried hard to save money to buy a US$50 AHHA hoodie, a local brand from Atta Halilintar - a famous Indonesian Youtuber. It's hard to understand why he is willing to spend that much money for a tacky jacket while apparently not willing to spend or save more for his own future.

Every qualitative researcher must have these kinds of stories about their respondents. How they have to go to North Jakarta slums, small villages in Sulawesi, or upscale condominiums in South Jakarta to get a captivating slice of human life story and everyone is always able to come up with one interesting story that they will remember many years to come.

Last month I attended Qual360 APAC Conference - a conference for qualitative market researchers. The most common topic is about disruption of qualitative research by the buzzwords - Machine Learning, Big Data, and Artificial Intelligence. Is automation a threat for qualitative research? Is big data substituting for true curiosity about consumers? Those gripping stories of Indonesian poor and tech disruption on qualitative research got me thinking: will we as qualitative researchers still have this kind of fascination in telling a human story when a machine is replacing our real-life interaction with our consumers?