This is leading to money being pumped into the area of computational linguistics from all angles. As a result, over the last year or so, robo-journalism — the process of automatically writing complete and complex news stories without any human intervention — has gone from being mistaken for a rejected Robo-Cop spin off to a very real possibility that has Reuters and News Corporation a little hot under the collar.

But what could this mean for market researchers? Well, the basic principle behind robojournalism is that large amounts of text (say, a focus group transcript) can be processed into coherent summaries, discursive essays or blurbs. With transcription technology also well on the way to high accuracy rates, within a few years the astute ear and eye of a good qualitative researcher could also soon be matched by computer software. Will moderating be the sole researcher’s skill to survive the inevitable wave of automation? Or will the arrival of robo-journalists be followed shortly by robo-moderators (unlikely to be coming to a cinema near you!)?