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How AI Is Rewriting the Rules of Data Analysis

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With the increasing prominence of artificial intelligence, a new era of data analytics is unfolding. This development has significant implications for data analysts, as artificial intelligence is not just introducing new tools and techniques but also fundamentally transforming the analytics landscape. Consequently, the skills, roles, and decision-making processes of analysts are evolving.

Decoding AI Terminology  

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a branch of computer science concerned with building smart machines capable of performing tasks that typically require human intelligence.

AI is broad and usually divided into two main types: narrow AI, which is designed to perform a specific task such as voice recognition, and general AI, which can perform any intellectual task that a human can.

Subfields of AI include machine learning, where algorithms learn from data and improve their accuracy over time without being programmed to do so, and natural language processing, which enables machines to understand and respond to human language.

Generative AI is a field of AI that employs machine learning algorithms to produce new data that resembles the patterns and traits of its training data. This includes generating text and images like human creations and intricate data patterns. One of the best-known examples of this type of technology is the GPT-4 model from OpenAI, known for its ability to generate human-like text.

AI for Data Analysis

AI for data analysis allows for processing large volumes of complex data at high speeds, leading to quicker and more accurate business insights. For example, predictive analytics, a form of AI, can analyze historical data to forecast future trends and behaviours.

AI-powered text analytics tools can sift through unstructured data such as customer reviews or social media comments, providing valuable insights into customer sentiment and preferences. Similarly, AI can be used for anomaly detection in financial transactions to identify fraudulent activities.

In addition, generative AI, particularly solutions like ChatGPT, offers a range of capabilities that data analysts can leverage:

  1. Code Interpretation and Generation: Imagine a data analyst wrestling with a complex Python script left by a departed colleague. Here, generative AI can be a lifesaver, interpreting the Python code into accessible language. Generative AI can generate tailored boilerplate code in Python or SQL when creating new scripts based on the analyst's guidelines.
  2. Learning and Problem-Solving: When an analyst is eager to learn about a novel topic like deep learning, generative AI can curate a personalized learning plan complete with appropriate resources. For complex mathematical problems that might emerge during data analysis, the GPT-4 code interpreter plugin stands ready to solve these challenges.
  3. Domain-Specific Support: Picture an analyst working on a healthcare project who encounters a question specific to that domain. Generative AI can provide a relevant answer, bridging the gap between technical knowledge and domain-specific understanding. Be aware, though, that the generative AI will sometimes very confidently make up facts. This is known as “hallucination.”
  4. Exploratory Data Analysis: Should analysts need a quick overview of a new dataset, they can call on generative AI to provide summary statistics and visualizations, offering an immediate and intuitive understanding of the dataset's key attributes.
  5. Automated Analysis and Communication: If routine data analysis tasks take up too much of an analyst's time, generative AI can automate them, freeing up the analyst for higher-order tasks. Generative AI can also translate technical findings into plain English for more effective communication with non-technical stakeholders.
  6. Presentation Preparation: Analysts can utilize generative AI to summarize critical data insights and construct compelling recommendations when faced with a presentation. In stakeholder interviews, generative AI can provide answers to practice questions and break down complex concepts, aiding in comprehensive preparation.
  7. Synthetic Data Generation: When accurate data is scarce or too sensitive to use, generative AI can produce synthetic data, reflecting the original dataset's characteristics and patterns without compromising privacy. Healthcare data analysts, for example, can use this method to analyze patient information without breaching confidentiality rules.
  8. Augmented Predictive Analytics: Generative AI can enhance predictive analytics, giving businesses more precise forecasts. For instance, a logistics company with limited past data can use generative models to simulate various scenarios, improving the accuracy of future supply and demand predictions.
  9. Stress-Testing and Risk Analysis: Generative AI can also be used to create challenging situations to test the resilience of business strategies. For example, financial data analysts can generate data replicating extreme market conditions to evaluate the solidity of investment strategies.
  10. Humour: Generative AI, especially ChatGPT, can be surprisingly funny and brighten the day of any busy analyst. Type this prompt in ChatGPT, “Marv is a chatbot that reluctantly answers questions with sarcastic responses,” and ask why a data analyst should use AI.

An Augmentative Force, Not a Replacement

With the advent of AI, many worry about the job security of data analysts. It is worth noting, however, that AI, particularly generative AI, is not meant to replace people. Instead, it is a helpful tool that takes over tedious and time-consuming tasks, allowing analysts to concentrate on more strategic aspects of their work.

When it comes to understanding the business context, making critical decisions, ensuring ethical data practices, and effectively communicating data insights, human expertise is highly valued. AI is currently limited in these aspects and human analysts can excel in them.

Skill Shift: Adaptability Is Key

As AI continues to gain influence, the skill set required for data analysts is evolving. In addition to core analytical abilities, data analysts must also possess knowledge of AI and machine learning concepts. This includes understanding how AI models are trained, their functioning, and how to interpret the results they produce.

It is becoming increasingly essential for analysts to know programming languages used in AI, such as Python or R. They must also be proficient in using AI tools and platforms, which require technical proficiency. Besides technical skills, soft skills are also gaining importance as AI takes over data processing and visualization tasks. Skills such as critical thinking, creativity, strategic decision-making, and effective communication are more crucial than ever.

Analysts must be able to present data insights and their implications clearly and understandably, making complex data accessible to non-technical audiences.

Embarking on the AI Journey

Beginning your journey into generative AI involves several steps:

  1. Foundational Learning: Start with understanding the principles of AI and machine learning, paying particular attention to generative models. Here is an introduction to large language models.
  2. Specialized Courses: Pursue dedicated online courses and tutorials on generative AI. Some good examples are: Google Generative AI Learning Path, 9 Best ChatGPT Classes, and Free Resources for Data Scientists.
  3. Hands-On Experience: Experiment with simple projects using open-source generative AI models or commercial models such as Open AI’s ChatGPT to gain practical exposure.
  4. Up-to-Date Knowledge: Regularly review industry articles and research papers and engage in AI forums to keep abreast of the latest developments and advancements.
  5. Collaboration: Team up with other data scientists and data analysts in your organization to glean practical insights and applications of generative AI.
To sum up, AI does not mean data analysts will become obsolete. Instead, it gives them powerful tools to enhance and simplify their work.

It is time to embrace the future of data analytics with AI and discover the exciting opportunities it offers.

Note: This blog has been created by applying generative AI. The author used AI to summarize relevant videos, articles, and ideas. ChatGPT was then used to synthesize the ideas and create a first draft blog. Generative AI saved the author considerable time, which supports the promise and premise of this article.

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About the Author:
Andy Cooper.jpg

Andy Cooper is Head of Strategic Development at Skills Group. Andy’s role is to identify trends and opportunities to drive growth and expansion with Skills Group’s broad portfolio of educational, vocational, and consulting services. Andy is a member of IIBA with a background and interest in data and data analysis.

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