November 27, 2018

4 Min Read
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Virtual and augmented reality, advanced voice recognition and other technology innovations that are even more cutting edge are starting to revolutionize how we work and open new business opportunities for visionary companies.

In the not-too-distant future, the lines between our physical and virtual worlds will fade away, said futurist Sophie Hackford, CEO of 1715 Labs, a company spun out of the University of Oxford to commercialize the work of citizen science portal Zooniverse.

“The word ‘digital’ is completely insufficient to describe the richness and diversity of this virtual environment, this virtual species that we’re going to become,” Hackford said during a packed keynote session at Oracle OpenWorld last month. “It’s a profound moment as we move from a two-dimensional to a three-dimensional environment.”

One example she offered is AlterEgo, a wearable system developed by the MIT Media Lab that portends a future where speaking will not always be necessary. The system, which captures peripheral signals of a user’s internal articulation of words, can be used to communicate with machines, virtual assistants and other people—with no speaking required.

Just as virtual assistants such as Alexa and Siri reduced our need to type, AlterEgo could reduce our need to communicate orally. Imagine the possibilities for police and military missions where both communication and silence are necessary, or for workers on loud factory floors.

“We’re moving into a heads-up rather than a heads-down future, where we’re no longer staring into our tiny screens in our hands,” Hackford said. “That tiny screen will be replaced with an infinite screen. We’ll be surrounded by a digital universe helping us achieve our daily tasks.”

3D Experiences

The internet could soon become a three-dimensional experience, where we’ll “type” with our eyes, voice or, as AlterEgo demonstrates, thoughts, she suggested.

A 3D internet could open up whole new markets, delivery channels, means of communication and marketing, and business models. Of course, it could also change how employees do their jobs.

Hackford cited several opportunities:

  • Collaboration:NASA has used virtual reality for years to train astronauts, Hackford noted, and the agency is experimenting with International Space Station applications—for maintenance, performing experiments and even spacewalks.

  • Training:Some prisons are using virtual reality applications to train inmates who are about to be released on how to perform common tasks, like do their laundry and use grocery store self-checkout lanes (which long-term inmates may have never seen). Walmart is shipping Oculus Rift headsets to almost all of its stores to provide employee training.

  • Shopping: Some retailers already let online customers view 3D versions of certain products or stroll through a virtual store. For example, League of Legends, a free-to-play online game, has raked in more than $1 billion as gamers spent real-world money changing and enhancing their virtual characters and growing their arsenal.

  • Virtual R&D: Manufacturers of autonomous cars use artificial intelligence to run scenarios about what their vehicles might face in the physical world or how human drivers in the next lane might react. Another fascinating example of virtual R&D comes from Interactive Scientific—part of the Oracle Startup Cloud Accelerator programin Bristol, England—which has developed scientific simulation software that’s helping researchers explore new theories, product designs, and drugs.

Here and Now—or Soon

If commercial uses of some of those innovations seem like they’re far into the future, consider that Siri was introduced to consumers in 2011 and Alexa in 2015, and those kinds of artificial-intelligence-based voice interfaces already are showing up in business applications.

During his second keynote at Oracle OpenWorld last month, Oracle Executive Chairman and CTO Larry Ellison demonstrated new Oracle Digital Assistant technology, which lets companies build conversational interfaces that pull answers from all of their enterprise systems—from calendars and org charts to expense report and HR applications—using any of the most popular voice and messaging platforms as a front end. Gartner predicts that 25 percent of customer service and support operations will integrate virtual customer assistant or chatbot technology by 2020, up from less than 2 percent in 2017.

Whole new industries will be built on these powerful new capabilities, Hackford said. Meanwhile, existing companies will use these virtual environments to develop and test market new products before releasing them into the physical world.

“This is not a race against the machines,” she said, “but rather with them.”

This guest blog is part of a Channel Futures sponsorship. 


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