We are on the cusp of a massive shift in how technology impacts the way we live, work, and play. Big business disruption is coming, and at the heart of it will be virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI).
Plucky startups and established companies alike are looking to tap into these most exciting emerging markets - markets that are likely to make the introduction of the iPhone less than a decade ago seem small-time.
This juggernaut of technological innovation is hurtling towards us at a rate of knots. And businesses need to be ready to keep pace, or risk being left in the dust.
In this post, we will seek to define artificial intelligence, before looking at how AI and VR might interface with one another, and the potential commercial applications for these technologies.
What Is Artificial Intelligence?
In short, artificial intelligence, a term coined by Stanford researcher John McCarthy in 1956, is the science and engineering of making intelligent computer programs and machines that are capable of learning; essentially reaching and exceeding human levels of intelligence.
This has led to much discussion regarding the Turing Test - a means of evaluating AI systems - and warnings that AI will inevitably steal our jobs, and perhaps even rise up and conquer the human race, in a desperately dystopian future ruled by machines.
Yet, for the most part, this is pure science fiction. Instead, we have witnessed the recent emergence of Google’s DeepMind, IBM’s Watson, and even smartphone assistants such as Google Now, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Apple’s Siri.
Of course the difference in capabilities between Watson and Siri is quite apparent, but both can be considered as AI as they can both undertake tasks that would be deemed intelligent if carried out by human beings. How the program completes the task does not matter, just that it can do it in the first place.
And it turns out that there are some very different goals in play when it comes to building AI systems.
- Some researchers wish to build systems that think in exactly the same way that humans do.
- Others want to achieve AI without worrying about if the computation mirrors that of human thought.
- And the final group find themselves somewhere in-between. They use human reasoning as a model to design systems, but their final target is not to imitate humans.
Those who wish to simulate human reasoning fall into a category called ‘strong AI’. There is yet to be a model designed that meets the criteria of strong AI, which aims to not only build a system that mirrors human intelligence, but also explains how humans think.
The second category is known as ‘weak AI’, due to the fact that while the systems could be built to mirror human cognition, they won’t tell us anything about how we think.
And finally, those who sit in between strong and weak AI - let’s call it ‘normal AI’ - are looking to develop systems where human reasoning is a guide, but not necessarily the end goal. This is where the most of today’s work in AI is taking place.
Take, for instance, IBM’s Watson. When answering a question, it compiles information by looking at thousands of pieces of text, therefore giving the machine confidence that it has arrived at the correct answer. By combining this information with its ability to not only recognize patterns, but to also weigh the evidence found in those patterns, Watson can come to conclusions in much the same way people do.
Similarly, Google’s DeepMind is inspired by the actual structure of our brain. It functions by learning layer upon layer of representations for tasks such as speech or image recognition, similar to the behavior of neurons in the human brain.
The key is, an AI system does not need to work in exactly the same way as we do in order to be considered ‘artificial intelligence.’ Rather, it just needs to be smart.
Applying Artificial Intelligence to Virtual Reality
So, now that we have a better understanding of what AI is, the next thing we must address is: how will AI interface with VR?
Many businesses will be doing their utmost to answer this question too. Oracle CEO Mark Hurd wrote on LinkedIn that almost three-quarters of companies respond to digital disruption only after the second year of its occurrence, while only 14% of executives believe their companies are ready to effectively redesign their organizations.
This means a number of established businesses may end up caught on their heels, leaving room for innovative startups to steal some market share before saturation kicks in.
If you don’t want to be left behind, or if you want to take advantage of established companies being too slow to react, then having a clear understanding of how VR and AI will work together is crucial.
It’s likely that virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and the internet will put an end to the old way of doing things in a number of industries, from gaming and filmmaking to education and healthcare.
Virtual reality will essentially force us to change our perspective (both figuratively and literally) with regards to how we engage with particular industries and activities.
It will likely grow into a technological necessity, helping to eliminate inefficiencies across a number of areas, all while improving the way in which information is delivered and consumed.
Healthcare and education will undoubtedly see a real game changing benefit, allowing medical students to undertake risk-free surgical training, or philosophy students to learn remotely in an immersive and meaningful digital environment.
And of course, there will be the many obvious entertainment applications. So, for all of this to just work, VR will need the support of something that can bring these complex systems together.
That’s where AI comes in.
When VR challenges and transforms industries, AI will be there by its side to help smooth the way. It will serve to act as the foundation upon which the virtual environment will exist.
When VR and AI are combined, they will make the adoption of this new tech more straightforward, helping to bind and present contextual data in order to open up channels for healthcare, education, business, and entertainment.
And for this to happen, we will need a means of seamlessly sharing this data. Which leads us to…
The inescapable, incredible, and indispensable Internet will be crucial to the happy marriage of VR and AI. With vastly improved speeds, expanded access, and a shared set of rules, we will see virtual worlds powered by artificial intelligence purr along as data is instantaneously exchanged across the information superhighway.
And the Internet has the added bonus of being a shining example of a modern, worldwide adoption of technology that has helped transform business and shape humanity.
So, with the possibility of another global tech revolution edging ever closer, how will the double act of AI and VR be leveraged to change the way we live, shop, socialize, and more?
Potential Commercial Applications of AI and VR
Some major players are already moving their resources into position as they prepare to shake up their respective industries. Social media, retail, gaming, and healthcare are all primed for major changes thanks to VR and AI.
Take, for instance, Facebook. Over the next decade, they plan on taking the lead with both AI and VR in the social media space. CEO Mark Zuckerberg is of the belief that by utilizing both of these emerging technologies, his company will offer a more compelling social experience beyond the run-of-the-mill status updates and photo sharing.
His vision for the future of Facebook will include contextual news updates, and 360-degree videos. The platform will also integrate AI so that it can explain objects in an image or understand speech.
And shared virtual environments will help take social media platforms, such as the one Zuckerberg founded in his Harvard dorm room all those years ago (2004!), to another level. Just imagine pulling on a VR headset and playing a few games of pool with an old college friend, all without leaving the comfort of your own home.
Meanwhile, the retail industry appears ready to move with the rapidly changing times. Having already embraced smart mirrors in dressing rooms, there seems to be a willingness to take the lead on AI.
Big data is, and will continue to be, crucial to the way in which retail organizations develop insights about their customers. And by leveraging machine learning, they will be able to offer more personalized and tailored experiences both online and instore.
One brand that has been experimenting with AI is outdoor retailer The North Face. They have been working with a tool called the Fluid Expert Personal Shopper - powered by IBM’s Watson, no less - which exposes its customers to a more intuitive search experience, thanks to its ability to understand natural language.
And another AI-powered area that has retailers justifiably excited is that of ‘visual listening’. Not too dissimilar to Facebook’s goal of understanding and explaining the context of imagery, visual listening uses algorithms to study posts on photo-sharing platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest to better understand what customers are sharing about their brands.
A report by Sonar has shown that many consumers - particularly those aged between 13 and 17 years old - welcome these technological advancements, believing that this level of insight will only make their shopping experiences more valuable. 80% are reported as being more likely to visit a store that provides entertainment, and 80% said the very same about stores that make VR and AR technology available. And 79% said they would be more likely to visit a store that offered interactive experiences that helped customize products.
It therefore stands to reason that eradicating any gaps in the journey from initial inspiration to final purchase is paramount for a great number of retailers. Offering a multichannel consumer experience would not only benefit the customer, but also the bottom line of the business.
How Can AppReal-VR Help?
Virtual Reality applications are already among the most exciting apps available today, and yet we’re only really scratching the surface with regards to their potential.
By developing revolutionary VR software, complemented by cutting-edge AI systems, businesses of all disciplines and backgrounds will enjoy never-before-seen levels of creativity and success.
With AppReal’s exceptional experience in custom mobile app development, which is matched only by our understanding of VR app development, our motivated team of VR experts will guide you and your business through this incredible and fast-paced marketplace.
We can navigate your initial concept through the visual design and technical development stages, culminating in an industry-changing, world-class Virtual Reality app.
Are you ready to take revolutionize your industry with your VR app idea? Chat to one of our friendly experts today.