The Alphabet of the Future: AI, VR, IOT, AR

I’ve just returned from the annual “Dreamforce” conference, an annual gathering of some 170,000 in San Francisco. We were well represented with 5 of our staff presenting at various points during the 4 day event.

My takeaway from this mega-event is a set of letters, which to me represent the future of technology and which I’ll be writing about more in the coming months and years. Here’s the list, along with a quick definition and some off-the-cuff examples of why I think these new technologies will matter to arts organizations.

AI: Artificial Intelligence – This is the hottest topic in tech right now, and it’s all about the potential of technology to forecast (based on huge datasets and algorithms and “machine learning”) something that will happen in the future or might happen. For marketers, AI promises to give better guidance on when email campaigns should go out and/or in what cadence. Rather than our having to guess what will work best, AI tools will do a better job than we can.

VR: Virtual Reality – I’ve now had a dozen demos on various consumer VR headsets and without a doubt, this is the next biggest improvement in experiential entertainment and learning through technology. I recently took a five-minute “tour” to a glacier in Alaska, complete with sound effects and a seat that shook, mimicking the engine of the boat I was riding on. It was so immersive and realistic that my interest in going to Alaska is now significantly more, based on those five minutes. Imagine if there were to be a VR experience of sitting inside an orchestra as the orchestra plays?

iOT: Internet of Things – This is a broad catchphrase for when hardware is connected to the internet. There are a few widely distributed examples of this already. Google’s “Nest” thermometer, for example, is connected to a database that through technology figures out when you’re at home and subsequently when the heat should be turned up or down. The uses of this will become more apparent over the next few years as Google, Apple, and others work to infuse the home with IOT devices. I’m not sure how this would impact our audience-building activities, but I can easily see a day when the stage manager can lock all the doors of the theatre and make sure the lights are out, right from their mobile phone.

AR: Augmented Reality – This technology involves a device or a headset (or something akin to Google Glass) where what you see has an overlay with information from the Internet. I saw a demonstration of a repair-person fixing a complex machine, where, as she worked on the machine, instructions were presented to her in her line of sight. We are already seeing cars that have the speed and directions presented right on the windshield as you drive, rather than on a separate GPS device on the dashboard. I can imagine someone watching a symphony or theater, and by wearing AR glasses, additional information about what they are seeing or hearing is presented to them.

This is just simply the tip of the iceberg, and I continue to feel that we are living in an amazingly exciting time when technology that will vastly change our lives is being invented (and tested) before our very eyes. Having lived through the excitement of the birth of the consumer Internet back in the Compu-Serve and AOL days, I thought that was amazing, but what’s coming up in the next few years seems like it will be even more exciting.

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