All levels of research are being transformed by the rise of artificial intelligence (AI). Don’t have time to read this magazine article? AI-supported tools comparable to TLDRthis I’ll summarize it for you.

Are you having a tough time finding relevant sources in your review? Exciting lists suitable items on the touch of a button. Are your human research participants too expensive or too complicated to administer? No problem – try it synthetic participants as a substitute.

Each of those tools suggests that AI may very well be superior to humans at sketching and explaining concepts or ideas. But can humans get replaced relating to qualitative research?

This is something we recently needed to grapple with when conducting independent research into this Mobile dating in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. And what we found should dampen enthusiasm for artificial responses over the words of human participants.

Encountering AI in our research

Our research explores how people might engage with mobile dating in the course of the pandemic in Aotearoa, New Zealand. Our goal was to look at broader societal responses to mobile dating because the pandemic progressed and public health orders modified over time.

As a part of this ongoing research, we ask participants to develop stories in response to hypothetical scenarios.

In 2021 and 2022, we received quite a lot of interesting and quirky responses from 110 New Zealanders recruited via Facebook. Each participant received a present voucher for his or her time.

Participants described characters navigating the challenges of “Zoom dates” and arguing about vaccination status or wearing masks. Others wrote passionate love stories with sensational details. Some have even broken the fourth wall and written to us directly, complaining in regards to the required word length of their stories or the standard of our prompts.

A human-made story about dating in the course of the pandemic.

These answers captured the ups and downs of online dating, the boredom and loneliness of lockdown, and the fun and desperation of finding love within the time of COVID-19.

But perhaps most of all, these responses reminded us of the idiosyncratic and irreverent points of human involvement in research—the unexpected directions participants take and even the unsolicited feedback one can receive in research.

But in the ultimate round of our study at the top of 2023, something had clearly modified within the 60 stories we received.

This time around, most of the stories felt “off.” The selection of words was quite stilted or overly formal. And each story was pretty moral about what you “should” do in a situation.

Using AI detection tools like ZeroGPT, we concluded that participants – and even bots – were using AI to generate story responses for them, possibly to receive the gift card with minimal effort.

Moralistic and stilted: an AI-generated story about dating in the course of the pandemic.

Contrary to claims that AI can adequately replicate human research participants, we found AI-generated stories to be unlucky.

We were reminded that a vital a part of any social research is that the information relies on lived experiences.

Is AI the issue?

Perhaps the best threat to human research isn’t AI, however the philosophy that underlies it.

It is price noting that almost all claims about AI’s ability to switch humans come from computer scientists or quantitative social scientists. In such studies, human considering or behavior is commonly measured using scorecards or yes/no statements.

This approach necessarily places the human experience inside a framework that might be more easily analyzed through computational or artificial interpretation.

In contrast, we’re qualitative researchers keen on the messy, emotional, and lived experiences of individuals’s perspectives on dating. We were intrigued by the excitements and disappointments that participants initially pointed to with online dating, the frustrations and challenges of attempting to use dating apps, and the opportunities they may create for intimacy in times of lockdowns and changing health protocols .

In general, we found that AI poorly simulated these experiences.

Some may assume that generative AI is here to remain, or that AI must be viewed as a method to offer different tools to researchers. Other researchers might resort to forms of information collection comparable to surveys that might minimize the impact of unwanted AI involvement.

But based on our recent research experiencesWe imagine that theoretically informed, qualitative social research is best suited to detect and protect against AI interference.

There are further implications for research. The threat of AI as an unwanted participant means researchers can have to work longer or harder to detect fraudulent participants.

Academic institutions must begin developing policies and practices to cut back the burden on individual researchers in search of to conduct research within the changing AI environment.

Regardless of researchers’ theoretical orientation, the query of how we work to limit using AI is an issue for anyone keen on understanding human perspectives or experiences. If anything, the constraints of AI re-emphasize the importance of being human in social research.

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