Beyond Science FIction: AI, AR, and VR in Today’s World

For years, artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR) have been the stuff of science fiction. But now they’ve gone from being fanciful features in books and movies to becoming part of our reality. We’ve seen all three of these technologies slowly rise in popularity as we explore their capabilities — from Facebook’s bots that developed their own language to communicate with each other to NASA’s AR-enabled app that helps you learn about the stars you see from your window.

Defining the technology

  • Artificial intelligence: This is a computer program that often uses machine learning to predict certain events and respond in an appropriate manner.
  • Augmented reality: This is an interactive experience in which real world elements are ‘augmented’ by computer-generated imagery and is experienced with the help of a device, such as a smartphone.
  • Virtual reality: This is an interactive, computer-generated experience that takes place within a simulated environment.

AI, AR, and VR in our lives

Anyone who owns a smartphone is probably already intimately familiar with the capabilities of AI. Programs such as Google Assistant and Siri work as personal butlers that fit in your pocket, intelligent enough to remember important dates, play music on command, and answer any question you ask of them. The advent of devices like Google Home or Amazon’s Alexa have even brought this technology into our homes. But AI is used for more than ordering pizza from the comfort of your room. Any time you use Google Maps to predict the traffic on your commute or filter spam mail directly out of your email inbox, you’re employing artificial intelligence in some way.

AR and VR, on the other hand, are not as common in our everyday lives. However, these technologies have found a firm foothold in the gaming and entertainment industries. Nintendo introduced AR capabilities into their DSi model as early as 2009, and many people are familiar with the international craze that was Pokémon Go. The game used augmented reality to allow anyone with a smartphone to ‘capture’ Pokémon, fantasy creatures that could be used to battle other players in their own neighborhoods. And these are just a few instances — AR has now become a common feature in many game systems. Virtual reality, on the other hand, didn’t see any real development in the industry until the advent of Oculus Rift in 2012 — a VR headset. These allow the user to transport themselves into the world of the game, and provides them with a completely immersive gaming experience.

These technologies in other industries

Gaming and entertainment aren’t the only industries that stand to benefit from the adoption of this technology. AR, VR, and AI can be used across disciplines to enhance training, digitalize operations, or even create 3D models of products or environments. Some of the other industries that can use this technology are:

  • Healthcare: AR solutions can help in pre-operational procedures such as surgical planning. Some rehabilitation centers have even looked into using VR as a way to help patients with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). By experiencing computer-simulated warfare, veterans with PTSD are taught to deal with triggers in a way that doesn’t harm themselves or others.
  • Aerospace: Hands-free AR technology can help facilitate knowledge sharing among multiple employees, allowing engineers to remotely deal with any problems that may occur. This could even be done in-flight by allowing them to see what the pilot sees.
  • Government: AR and VR can help train government employees, especially in departments such as border security or immigration. It can create simulated situations to help trainees learn how to interact with any kind of environment. In emergency situations, the 3D mapping and wayfinder capabilities of certain kinds of AI can help gauge the environment and create a viable evacuation or rescue plan.
  • Retail and Manufacturing: With a simple scan from a smartphone, AR-based digital catalogs can give customers additional information about products on display. Meanwhile, manufacturing companies can use AI to digitalize their standard operating procedures. They could also use a combination of AI, AR, and VR to create 3D models of their products and test them in a simulated environment.
  • Animation and design: A combination of AI and VR can help create more immersive environments. The technology can also generate characters that learn to move and respond appropriately without needing the painstaking efforts of motion capture or tweening that are currently in use.

Better together

While each of these technologies are impressive on their own, it is when they come together that they really shine. AI, for example, can be used to bring out AR and VR’s full potential — the machine learning capabilities of AI combined with the interactive and immersive capabilities of AR and VR can lead to:

  • Smarter physical mapping of environments, creating simulations that grow as the AI program learns
  • Greater depth perception for a more complete and immersive experience
  • Better and smarter hazard warnings for those working in dangerous environments
  • Improved interaction in games, with non-player characters being taught to respond appropriately to any situation

As these technologies are developing at an incredible rate, it is difficult to accurately predict where AI, AR, and VR will take us. But if what we’re seeing today is any indication, the future is definitely looking bright!