My Gartner Symposium Experience: AI, VR, AR

Lots of companies highlighted their advancements in artificial intelligence, virtual reality and augmented (or mixed) reality at Gartner Symposium 2017.

Some of my observations:

Artificial Intelligence

Microsoft presented a session on their progress in AI, and many of their examples were about how AI can help people with disabilities communicate, learn, and contribute. One great example was helping nonverbal people communicate by using smart devices – picture an advanced version of autocomplete with a visually-driven interface so the user can select each picture/word and the interface predicts what word or picture they’ll want to choose next.

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They also talked about replacing traditional “systems of record” with a tiered “system of intelligence” that has the system of record as it’s foundation, AI at the core, and “systems of engagement” for user interface in web, mobile, and chat. Much of this work is already in place at customers who are using it for customer service and other functions.

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Virtual Reality

Samsung demonstrated their Gear VR headset, with three experiences to choose from. I selected one about wounded warriors participating in adaptive Winter Olympic sports. The video quality was good, and the audio in the separate headphones was as well. There wasn’t a lot of motion in the 360 degree video, but it was immersive enough that it felt unusual to look down and see someone else’s ski boots rather than the shoes I was wearing. It was mostly a passive rather than interactive experience, but the technology is clearly good and getting better. The real leap will be when there are more natural feeling headsets (ultimately contact lenses & implantable earphones) and haptic gloves that allow you to feel the objects you’re manipulating in VR. Other companies like Oculus and Sony continue to make huge strides and push VR forward.

Augmented (or Mixed) Reality

Back to Microsoft, who was demonstrating its AR headset HoloLens at their booth by having users look at a (real actual physical) car tire while the display overlayed an exploded view of each layer of the tire (sidewall, steel belt, tread, etc.). I could then “3D tap” any layer of the tire and a tire expert talked about the features in that layer.

AR has some really interesting possibilities that can make it more valuable than VR in many use cases, but I don’t think this demo did a great job of exploiting those. Maybe a demo that looked at a damaged tire and the AR could show how to repair it based on where the damage is, or a demo showing what different furniture would look like in the trade show booth (like the new Housecraft app). Further, the video quality was very poor compared to the Samsung VR headset, and the sound was almost inaudible.

AR has huge potential, and HoloLens is a really good product, but unfortunately the demo didn’t let it shine as much as I hoped. Lots of companies are pouring resources into developing AR capabilities, and the progress there is going to be interesting to watch.

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