Apr 19Liked by Niloufar Salehi

I am backing Niloufar in this. It's not that she "did not use the tool correctly." It's that the tool is doing something inappropriate and unethical.

For design & strategic research we want to build new knowledge about people's approaches outside of what is already experienced or known by a team. To build this new knowledge we need to understand new meaning communicated to us by people who have done a lot of interior cognition (defined as: inner thinking, emotional reactions, personal rules) about the purpose they addressed. ChatGPT is not a source of meaning. ChatGPT is more like a search engine, finding words that have been published in relation to other words, all already existing in the training data. https://medium.com/@indiyoung/insta-personas-synthetic-users-fc6e9cd1c301

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What a great piece - thanks Niloufar, you are doing our field a true service with your analysis.

I do think there are ways to AMPLIFY research efforts with LLMs - e.g. pattern recognition, automated research-style note-taking, etc. that don't involve replacing users.

I look forward to seeing smart applications emerge in this space.

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Hi Niloufar, thank you for taking the time to review our app.

We obviously disagree with your analysis and your conclusions.

Let's review.

From you post:

Parents were seeking a high quality education for their child, but faced challenges in reaching this goal but had several challenges:

1 - finding useful and relevant information about the schools available

2 - making choices between schools that balanced access to well-resourced schools against other considerations like safety, inclusion, and convenience

3 - overwhelming number of options

Some quotes from the synthetic user interviews you shared:

1 - "This issue is causing me anxiety and stress because I want to make the best decision for my child's education, but I don't know where to turn for reliable information."

" I have been struggling to find information about the different schools, their curriculums, and their reputations."

"This impacts me greatly because I want the best for my daughter, but I don't even know where to start looking for reliable information about schools."

2 - "Finally, I'm also concerned about the safety of the schools in my area, and whether my child will be able to stay safe while attending."

"Lastly, I am concerned about the safety of the schools in the area. There have been news reports of violence in some schools in the past, so I want to make sure the school I choose for my child is safe."

"Additionally, the dashboard may not reflect other factors that are important to me, such as the school's cultural responsiveness or climate. "

"Finally, this dashboard provides statistical data only, and the families need more in-depth information about schools such as school culture or individual teacher quality, etc. which can sometimes be more critical than just data."

"One issue is transportation. I live in a neighborhood with poor public transportation, which makes it difficult for me to visit schools that are located further away. "

"Secondly, can the dashboard also provide information about transportation options for the schools? This may be particularly important for parents who do not have access to a car."

"For example, the dashboard might indicate high test scores, but it might not provide information about the quality of the teachers, extracurricular programs, and other aspects that are important to me as a parent."

3 - "Another challenge is that there are many different types of schools to choose from, and I don't know which one would be the best for my child. For example, there are charter schools, public schools, and private schools, and they all have different strengths and weaknesses. "

"This solution provides a centralized location for me to access information about schools nearby without having to navigate multiple websites or online sources. "

Regarding the average score given by synthetic users ( 3.4/5), if fits your own results since, as you recognize in your paper, "...some parents in our sample found this kind of data useful...".

If you were willing to give synthetic users a chance and see how they really compare, you could have used the problem exploration mode of our app. Maybe that wasn't the goal.

But we did and we believe the results align with the results of your own research. Link: https://app.syntheticusers.com/summaries/f055d3c2-2a37-43a0-9b40-fcb3a3baa327

Now, we don't believe this will change yours or anyone's mind. People look at our product and, even before trying it, make a decision of giving it a chance or not.

We don't want user researchers, other product people or academics to stop talking to people. We want to help them be better equipped so, when they do, they can dig deeper and have even more nuanced conversations and explorations.

What we also want is to help people who are priced out of research or too time constraint to do any, to have a real chance at better understanding the people they are building products for. There are too many products and features launched with zero research and we want to help that number reduce.

Even well resourced teams can struggle to find the people they want to help as your paper clearly shows.

Two quotes from it show this really well:

"We met with these partners weekly to identify our research questions and develop a recruitment strategy over the course of **several months** ." (emphasis ours)

"Our sample in this paper is small because we spent **significant time and effort recruiting participants** and building relationships with community groups."

" responses to this survey were very slow, and most parents who completed it did not respond when we tried to set up an interview."

These are the type of problems we are trying to solve.

If you are available, we would welcome constructive feedback how to to make our product better

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I am so happy to see this - instead of a hot take, an actual experience with your thoughtful criticisms! Glad that our field has a reference example of the ridiculousness - I love the disdain, but I love substance even more.

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I loved this phrase in particular: "The whole point of spending the time to interview people and then spending a lot more time analyzing the large amounts of data gathered, is the ability to connect with them, build trust, dig deeper, ask them to share stories, and learn about their feelings and emotions. Pattern synthesis engines have none of those."

-> Indeed, the fact that good qualitative research takes time, is the point! It's a feature, not a bug! It is -NOT- the part that we should replace. Immersing yourself, getting familiar with the people and the problems, having opportunities for serendipity, and going deep in analysis, is what it's all about.

Using AI to optimise & automate large parts of ResearchOPS? Yes please.

Using AI to replace humans and human insights? F*ck no.

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Hi Niloufar, thank you taking the time to review our product.

I understand it falls short of your expectations.

Before I reply to it, would you be so kind to share the 6 interviews you’ve ran? I’d like to have a look at them and the linked paper before replying.

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Thank you for the review, Niloufar. Its much appreciated. I’m sure AI will play a significant role in research, but it clearly wont be due to this iteration of syntheticusers.

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