Those of you who have a dog will know what we mean. Dogs speak, but not as we do. They wag their tails when they are happy, they bare their teeth and snarl when they are angry, they prick up their ears when something interesting is happening. You can begin to communicate with your dog if you understand doggy language.
Don’t you find it strange that we have no training on the subject? We are not talking here about learning how to bark, we are talking about interpreting the body language of human beings. It is the sort of thing that you pick up in life. Some people find it much easier than others having a good compliment of emotional intelligence and social skills. For many, body language goes over their heads (no pun intended).
We want to bring into this discussion Ehsan Hoque, a professor of computer science and electrical and computer engineering at the University of Rochester in New York. Just the other week he received a good deal of press coverage with his announcement that algorithms can decode human gestures. He is a strong believer in body language and what is more, he thinks computers can read it better than humans. In fact, he has developed a computerised “conversation assistant”. Through clever programming he can scan hand movements, eye contact, nods, expressions and pauses. He can objectively measure our non-verbal answers which he contends can be more accurate than answers provided with words.
This sounds as if it is a few years away. However, an article in the Harvard Business Review earlier this year showed the results of a survey which asked marketers in different roles how much of their jobs could be automated right now. Market research analysts said that 13% of their time is spent on tasks that could be done by machines and there are nearly half a million of them in the US alone.
What does this mean to us in market research? It has to be good news. We are always looking for “the truth”. What do people really think? Why did someone buy that Porsche? Sometimes we can’t articulate the real reason we chose a supplier and the answer is delivered as a logical explanation. “I bought the Porsche because it holds its price”. “I bought the Porsche because it is reliable”. Yeah, right! We are sure that words will be used for a long time to come in market research but we can’t wait to get our hands on Lissa — Professor Hoque’s “live interactive social skills assistant”. Lissa will speak dog for us. She will get closer to the truth, remove costs, and free us up to work on strategy. Walkies Lissa, walkies.