Emerging Technologies in Research: VR, AR and AI…Future or Fad?

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Last week, I was fortunate enough to attend the NYC Media Lab 2017 Summit at the Parsons School of Design. The two-day summit featured some of the leading minds in academia and industry speaking about the future of virtual reality, augmented reality and artificial intelligence. On a personal level, the event was energizing. On the first day, graduate students presented their work, and panel discussions were led by representatives from NYU and Cornell Universities, alongside research industry leaders from Audible.

I walked into the summit with loads of questions on how AR, VR and AI were going transform the way we live and the way researchers engage participants. After two days here’s what I found:

Augmented Reality: Here Now

No longer will an individual need to choose between observing a data source and focusing on the object of action. Augmented reality merges the two in the same field of vision, simplifying the cognitive and physical task.

Augmented Reality (AR) is going to change the way many people do their jobs within the next 1-5 years. The challenges solved by AR in the workforce are perhaps most apparent in the medical field. Dentistry is an example, where practitioners must split their attention between x-rays of an individual’s mouth and the patient’s actual mouth, frequently looking back and forth cross referencing. This inefficient action speaks to a much higher challenge that AR solves:

No longer will an individual need to choose between observing a data source and focusing on the object of action. Augmented reality merges the two in the same field of vision, simplifying the cognitive and physical task.

Virtual Reality: Coming Soon

The Virtual Reality (VR) discussions at the summit were unique in the sense that they were cautiously optimistic, more so than AR which was filled with outright excitement. VR has two serious hurdles to overcome before it can truly flourish:

1. Hardware: The vast majority of standalone (no phone required) VR headsets on the market today require a physical power cord to operate.
2. Software: To date, all VR environments that exist (in games or otherwise) are single “player”. VR environments that enable live interaction with others in the same digital world has yet to emerge.

Artificial Intelligence: It’s Complicated

There are equal parts excitement and concern around Artificial Intelligence (AI). For starters, companies like Netflix and Amazon are doing amazing things with their algorithms. Ever wonder why certain TV shows or products are displayed in a specific order? Recommendation systems have become an entire field of study, and the related algorithms and methods of evaluation are constantly improving outputs to points that match human recommendations. Some of the most surprising and exciting parts of AI are methods used in market research, such as implicit association testing.

A somewhat darker side of AI was also discussed in summit. There was a unanimous call among the panels related to the overall ethics of AI. This is a concern largely because the algorithms and neural networks responsible for AI don’t have a built-in mechanism to explain the results of its output. More discussion on this issue is sure to develop.

So, what do the advances in VR, AR and AI mean for the MRX industry?

As AR and AI have rapidly entered the medical, entertainment and e-commerce industries, it stands to reason that B2B researchers will soon be on the front lines of these emergent technologies. In the case of AR merging what have traditionally been two competing forces, I see exciting opportunities for researchers to utilize AR in storytelling and report writing. More to come!

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 Mike Kuehne


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