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In the world of technology, convergence is the logical step. Just a few decades back you would have needed a dedicated pager, phone, camcorder, camera, handheld gaming device, GPS tracker, and a Walkman to do what your smartphone does alone. We develop technologies only to merge them later for better and greater results.

When we talk about modern innovation, two technologies stand out – Virtual Reality (VR) and Artificial Intelligence (AI). While one aims to create an alternate reality for us, the other tries to equip computers with perception and insight of a sentient being. In recent years, we’ve taken huge steps toward refining both and one can’t shrug the idea of combining both to unravel infinite possibilities.

Merging AI and VR can lead to creation of some mind-bending environments.

Enhanced Virtual Shopping

If you’ve been living under a rock, you may not know that virtual shopping is already a thing where you can try out the product in a virtual environment before placing the order. Cadillac’s VR showroom and shopping for clothes with assistance from mixed reality have already become realities.

Store No 8’s team gave a demonstration of a VR mobile app that enables shoppers to try out camping gear in a virtual Yosemite. Katie Finnegan, the founder of innovation at the company said:

“You can see the tent in the environment in which you’ll use it,” she says. “You can unzip the opening, get inside, lay on the ground and say, ‘You know what? This is too tight,’ then swipe your hand to try another tent.”

You think this is awesome, don’t you? Now imagine introducing AI that learns from customer behavior, demands, and mannerisms. With the infusion of adequate and well-managed AI, the VR environment will become much more interactive and functional. Brands and retail stores can introduce in-environment AI-powered virtual salespeople who can make suggestions, listen to customer feedback, and even make a sale.

It wouldn’t only be beneficial for the customer, but the businesses as well. They would gain a huge opportunity to learn about their customers’ attitudes, patterns, and behaviors on a collective, as well as an individual, level. This will enable them to bring higher levels of personalization to the VR environment, making things convenient and efficient for the customer. In return, customers would be more likely to give money to the brand that has a tailor-made experience only for him.

Revolution in Tourism

Technology and tourism go hand in hand, and if there’s any industry that can take a huge leap with adequate utilization of AI and VR, it’s the tourism industry. Some firms have already embraced the future and are using Virtual Reality to give their potential customers a glimpse of what they have to offer and what could experience firsthand.

When it comes to tourism or vacations, it’s not about the small bits, but the entire experience. A smart combination of AI and VR here can turn an already excellent vacation into an unforgettable one. AI can be used in all aspects where decision making is involved, while VR can replicate the environments to give people a visual idea of what’s to come.

Global Director of Customer Service of Booking.com, James Waters, opined that 80% of their customers prefer to acquire the information they want for their travel themselves, rather than needing to work directly with a booking assistant, salesperson, etc. Therefore, Booking.com has developed an artificially intelligent backend that can help individuals complete their searches and bookings without the need of an intermediary. Things like flight booking, ticket handling, and hotel reservations can be handled by AI-powered software that makes the entire process convenient and efficient.

On the other hand, VR can be used by the tourism firm to take their potential customer to a place before they actually go there. The best thing about the convergence of technology is that it bears mutual benefit. It’s a win-win situation. Pictures are good, videos are better- but a virtual environment that mimics reality is the closest one can get to an actual experience.

Gaming and Entertainment

Without a doubt, the industry that gave new life to Virtual Reality is gaming. The possibility of living a game instead of playing it was exciting, on which the gaming community was willing to spend money on. Oculus Rift was the result which was later on bought out by Facebook.

While, with advancements and consistent progress, VR has broken out of the shadow of gaming, a major share of VR comes from the same industry that backed it almost a decade ago. Many head gears such as Sony PSVR, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard, etc. are already available to consumers and a huge portion of the apps developed for these headsets are games.

VR in games is already thriving, but what we should be excited about is the introduction of AI into the gaming space. Interestingly, video games are also being used to train AI. If you have played video games, on whatever medium, you would know that the only intelligent being who is capable of making decisions on their feet is you. Whether you are playing a first person shooter, an open world game, or a role playing game, non-player characters or NPCs have always been mechanical.

There isn’t anything wrong with them per se. However, they simply fail to act according to the actions of players and instead follow the hard-coded algorithms that have been already written by the developers. With the introduction of AI within gaming, we’d be able to make non-player characters much more intelligent, who would be capable enough to make their own decisions, making the game more interactive and fun. AI could increasingly enhance the quality of the game in terms of engaging the player.

Conclusion

Both AI and VR are great technologies in their own right. However, further greatness lies in convergence. If different industries can come together, they can stitch together AI-powered virtual environments which won’t be much different from the reality. No wonder we are already calling it Extended Reality (ER). VR is a visual medium of serving content. However, while it is a very realistic one, it still a medium. Bringing in sentience through AI will give it the human touch that it needs and will help it open doors to thousands of new opportunities for both businesses and consumers.

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Whilst having spent a lot of his life in Asia, John DeCleene has lived and studied all over the world - including spells in Hong Kong, Mexico, The U.S. and China. He graduated with a BA in Political Science from Tulane University in 2016. Fluent in English and proficient in Mandarin and Spanish, he can communicate and connect with most of the world’s population too, and this certainly helped John as he gained work experience interning for the U.S.-Taiwan Business counsel in Washington D.C. as an investment analyst and then working alongside U.S. Senator Robert P. Casey of Pennsylvania as a legislative intern. He subsequently worked as a business analyst for a mutual fund in Singapore, where his passion for travel and aptitude for creating connections between opportunities and ideas was the perfect intersection of natural ability and experience, spending his time travelling between Cambodia, Hong Kong, and China investigating and discovering untapped investment opportunities. John is a fund manager for OCIM’s fintech fund, and currently progressing towards becoming a CFA charter holder. He loves to travel for business and pleasure, having visited 38 countries (including North Korea); he represents the new breed of global citizen for the 21st century.

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