Alexa, what’s the difference between AI, AR and VR?

By Jen Neumann / Guest Column

At last week’s CBJ Future of Technology luncheon, panelists led an informative discussion on innovative learning, technology and projects that are based here in the region. The audience was a fairly informed group, with a lot of IT folks in the crowd, but for the layperson, it might have been a little dizzying.

With that in mind, my firm has created a primer to help you understand the difference between some of the technologies discussed and to consider how it will affect businesses right here in ICR:

Artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a part of our lives every day and the technology behind it is making leaps and bounds.

Although, as citizens, we value our privacy, we invite AI into our lives all the time to make it easier. Gmail effectively identifies 99 percent of spam – but some day soon it will be able to predictively answer your email. We populate social media with our interests and upload photos that outlets like Facebook can use to recognize you and your loved ones. We place “dots” on our kitchen counters and ask them questions, indicating what we are curious about or seeking. And our friendly overlords at Apple, Google and Amazon amass that information, building profiles of our habits and interests that fuel what we see when we log on to our computers, listen to streaming audio or watch a program on our smart TVs.

Simply put, the data collected on our behavior is used to predict what we might buy or want to buy, and we are “served” content that matches those data points – combining both AI and automation in a vast conspiracy to drain my bank account.

So how will AI and machine learning affect the future of business? Both of these technologies are in heavy use in business today, with advances and improvements constantly occurring. When it comes to their implementation, imagine reducing customer service time spent on the phone by auto-detecting a problem or question in an online chat, and either providing the answer when available, or routing the question to the correct person. The AI part comes in when the “chat bot” begins to determine patterns and can make better determinations based on that data, versus a simple “if this, then that” scenario.

As the workforce grows tighter, employers will look to AI to fill gaps so they can better utilize employee skills. Expect that trend to continue as we race toward driverless cars and trucks and more automated, yet personalized communications.

Augmented and virtual reality

These technologies once seemed like a plot from a sci-fi movie, but little by little, we’ve accepted both of these technologies into our lives. What’s the difference?

Virtual reality, or VR, puts you into the scene and makes you a part of it. It is being used to train law enforcement and medical students, as well as countless other professions that are finding that it is an effective long-term strategy to give people an experience that is difficult and expensive to recreate in reality. Augmented reality, or AR, is an overlay on our current reality – much like the new Star Wars “stickers” available on Google’s Pixel phone.

To put it simply, VR provides an alternate experience and changes your reality, while AR just messes with it a little.

We’re already playing with AR on social media, but businesses are also using it to help customers make decisions. Take the Wayfair or Houzz apps on Android or iPhone. Many items in their databases can be “viewed” in your own space. By creating an image with a transparent image, the app accesses your camera and allows you to “place” the item in a room and move or resize it, so you can get an idea of its color and scale in your space. Love it? Add it to your cart. Wrong color? Change it and try again.

This technology has applications far beyond business-to-consumer scenarios, however. Both AR and VR are portable showrooms, allowing a sales team or presenter to bring the experience to their prospect without a lot of equipment, customize an order or view equipment at scale on the production floor.

Over time, this type of experience will be the expectation, not the exception. It’s what apps like Snapchat and Facebook are training the next generation of buyers to expect. If you aren’t thinking about what this means for your business, it’s time to put on the headset and think like today and tomorrow’s consumer.

Jen Neumann is a partner with de Novo Marketing in Cedar Rapids.