There is a danger that after the frenetic excitement of the Christmas period, January can seem a bit bleak. But I’m a strong believer that in testing times we have the opportunity to distinguish ourselves. After all, it’s not all about Brexit; there are still certainties that we need to grapple with, and trends that show no sign of abating.

How we understand customer choice is changing. Voice control is transforming how people buy things and their relationship to brands. Machine learning is embracing every form of data – binary, visual, structured and wildly dissembled – and predictions are being formed, sometimes without us even asking questions. Meanwhile, bias is the silent assassin to free choice and equality, having been (unwittingly?) programmed into algorithms.

These are just a few of the ethical and practical challenges the research sector is going to meet head on this year. This magazine and the MRS annual conference – Impact 2019 – reflects the dual meaning of the word ‘impact’. Impact is not just about business outcomes, but a point of collision of many different forces, approaches, beliefs and desires.

It’s our responsibility to make sure that the impact we seek is positive, growthdriving and a force for good – not a spiral into chaos and destruction.

To make this happen needs something more, something new. This is why I have chosen the word ‘augmented’ to represent a step-change increase, an additional layering of intelligence that can magnify the effectiveness of insight. To deliver augmented insight, we must understand where to strike the balance between human intervention and automation.

‘Augmented’ is on the one hand practical and achievable, but properly applied it has unlimited potential. I believe the research sector already has many of the skills and tools to make this happen, and this conference will bring together some of the best examples out there, so that we can deliver at pace the growth that businesses need.

So there you have it – ‘Impact 2019: Augmented insight for future growth’. There’s nothing bleak about that if we all rise to the challenge. Will you join me?

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