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Susanne Friese, September 15 2023

Navigating the AI-Hype

A few days ago, I encountered yet another bold claim that qualitative data analysis can now be done instantly. The tool being touted not only collected the data but also, without delay, provided researchers with immediate access to the insights generated from that data, all through a fully automated process.

 The idea of harnessing automation to streamline the research process and derive instant insights is undeniably enticing. After all, time is often of the essence in the world of research, and any tool promising to expedite the journey from data collection to actionable insights deserves our attention.

However, as a seasoned researcher, I understand that qualitative analysis is a nuanced and complex endeavor. It involves not only collecting data but also interpreting it with a deep understanding of context, culture, and the human factor. 

 While AI can certainly assist and expedite the process, relying solely on it to perform the analysis will yield superficial results at best. We must not fall for these bold promises.  

Experienced professionals in the field, including those in business and marketing research where a lot of these claims are made, understand the nuanced role of AI in qualitative research. It is crucial to approach any grandiose claims with skepticism.

Our advice? When confronted with extravagant promises, it's best to run in the opposite direction. To achieve a high-quality analysis, it is essential to engage with AI tools and learn how to craft effective prompts.

This requires domain knowledge and expertise. For instance, someone without engineering knowledge may struggle to generate insightful prompts and evaluate the outcomes accurately.

Simply feeding data into an AI tool and expecting instant results is akin to relying on Deep Thought from "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" for the ultimate answer to life – which, as we know, turned out to be 42.

We don't have to wait millions of years until Deep Thought is providing an answer. However, there needs to be a clear understanding of the questions being asked otherwise the answers will be similarly meaningless.

It is important to acknowledge that app developers lack insight into the specific questions users may have, which can vary greatly from project to project. Additionally, during the data analysis process, new ideas emerge, prompting users to ask follow-up questions.

So, let's not be fooled by the allure of instant analysis.

If all we want is the answer 42, then by all means, proceed. However, if we seek a meaningful and comprehensive analysis, we must embrace the essential role of human interaction and expertise in conjunction with AI tools.

Epilogue

I published this story earlier on LinkedIn, and Sidi Lemine added the following  as comment to the analogy I was drawing:

"Douglas Adams was a computer programmer (or a coder as we say today), and used a number of ASCII jokes. 42 is the ASCII code for "*", employed in the languages of the time to mean "anything".  That little in-joke was never confirmed by him, but fun to think about!"

Thus, if the result of an instant analysis can be "anything", this shows how crucial it is to think about a question first and provide the AI with a well-defined context

Just like in Douglas Adams' novel where the supercomputer Deep Thought provides "42" as the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything, but nobody knows what the actual question is, AI can provide us with a myriad of insights, but it's up to us to ask the right questions.

Without a well-structured query or a clear understanding of what we're seeking, we risk getting an answer that, while technically correct, might not be useful or meaningful in our specific context. So, while AI tools promise us insights, their effectiveness greatly depends on our ability to frame our inquiries effectively and interpret the results correctly.

 

 Adams, D. (2007). The hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy. Random House (first published in 1979).

Written by

Susanne Friese

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