VR + AI: the very real reality of virtual artificial intelligence

VR + AI

TLDR; Virtual Reality can be immersive and fun, but add natural deep Artificial Intelligence and you quite literally get a new world which — beyond the computer generated world around you — may not actually be so virtual.

As applications in Virtual Reality are increasing in quality and variety, early developers are providing us with new interaction dynamics that are expanding the richness of immersive virtual worlds. By layering in aspects of natural artificial intelligence, experiences are developing that lose the feeling of being so “unreal;” distinct memories, interactions and relationships are being created that cause the user to question — well, if it happens in real life, but inside of a headset, does that not make it real?

Of our five senses, Head Mounted Displays (HMDs) handle vision, a solid pair of 3D headphones like OSSIC handle sound; AxonVR and others are working on haptics and touch…next up is smell and taste, those should be, well…interesting.

But beyond our five senses which create the feeling of physical “presence” in a virtual space, is the “immersion” of having a real experience, experiencing the unexpected and having the opportunity to create very real memories. As opposed to playing a pre-programmed “AI” game experience, natural social interaction is the key to this.

True social interaction in Virtual Reality can be created in two ways:

a. multiplayer interactions connecting live users synchronously, and

b. through true AI actors that interact and respond naturally based on the user’s nuanced interactions and cues. (I’m referring to pure, deep AI in this case, not the simple AI of playing against the game itself, which is quite common today).

“Theodore Twombly” (Joaquin Phoenix) in Her

Consider the real love experienced for the AI in the film “Her,” or the questionable line between robot and “being” in the film “Ex Machina,” or the incredible helpfulness of The Librarian, the sentient all-knowing AI in the book “Snow Crash”. Natural, social AI is a new user interaction dynamic on which we are surfing the cusp.

Ava (Alicia Vikander) in Ex Machina

While physical, Turing Test-graduate humanoid robots may be a decade away, immersive, bespoke experiences are happening today in Virtual Reality. Layer in “Voice” as user input mechanic, and you can live a very real life within a virtually-projected environment.

The best example I’ve seen of this yet is Wevr & RealityOne’s “Gnomes & Goblins” preview experience. In this, the user explores a whimsical fantasy world of “goblins,” and each time I go in, its feels as if the virtual world lives and breathes around me — the time of day is different, the friendly goblins interact with me in different ways. The creators have done a great job of combining the natural human interest of discovery with the deep AI dynamic of natural environmental and social response, leaving me with a truly magical feeling every time I leave.

I’m incredibly excited to experience the confluence of VR + AI as it develops to become some of the most real experiences we may have, yet. Yes it will happen in a headset, and yes it will be very real.

I’m investing in the emerging platforms of VR/AR (incl. computer vision, 3D modeling), robotics (automation, AI), voice as a platform, and IoT at Shasta Ventures. And I organize the VR Tuesday meet-up in San Francisco focused on the business-side of VR/AR/MR. Find me on Twitter @jacob.

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