Jay Morgan
Feb 8, 2017

5 technologies you need to know about now

VR, MR, AI, biometrics, voice control: A rundown of technologies that matter for creating amazing brand experiences—and how to focus your efforts.

Jay Morgan is group digital creative director with J. Walter Thompson Sydney and Webling
Jay Morgan is group digital creative director with J. Walter Thompson Sydney and Webling

1. Virtual reality

VR found its footing last year but VR is becoming more significant because the cost of headsets is going down, dramatically.

The core technology to achieve high-quality VR has been all but commoditised, now the race is on to secure the lion market share.

If you want to transport customers to a completely different environment, nothing does it quite like VR and the opportunities for brand experiences are immense. Whether it’s choosing the flooring material for your new apartment via a virtual showroom or customising the colour and features of your new car while sitting in the real car. 

Where to focus

VR is the wild, wild, west. It’s so new there are no conventions either in the way you should produce content or in the interfaces that guide people through the experience. Focus on getting the UX for VR (VUX) right from the planning stage and you’ll create experiences that feel thoughtful and immersive, the goal of a great VR experience is for players to exit the experience and say “How long was I in there?"

2. Mixed reality

While MR is further behind in generations compared with VR it has immediate commercial potential compared with VR which can be somewhat tenuous in most applications.

Because MR combines the world you see with your natural eyes with virtual holograms or overlays, you are immediately grounded in the real-world and can apply critical thinking without having to suspend disbelief - MR simply makes your real-world cooler.

With Microsoft leading the MR game (however Magic Leap’s technology promises to be far superior) they have already done what Google couldn’t do with Glass - release a pre-consumer developers kit with exquisitely crafted hardware and thoughtful, if not magical user experience. 

Where to focus

Find practical solutions that require the distribution to highly skilled practitioners and subject matter experts. For example, imagine what you could do with a plumbing business where the lead plumber could HoloLens into an apprentice performing a tricky task. The lead plumber could remotely deploy his skill through an apprentice wearing an MR headset. Tell me you see the commercial benefit in that.

3. AI and chatbots

Artificial Intelligence is still the most over-hyped technology of the past decade. The difference between AI and other seemingly miraculous technologies is that the total pervasiveness of its potential into every other technology is inevitable. The part that is overhyped is how far reaching and how capable a singular instance of AI will be.

From all accounts we are still decades away from anything that resembles general AI - a term used to describe a form of artificial intelligence indistinguishable from human intelligence. The smartest minds can’t even decide on how to approach such a monumental undertaking.

The replication of human intelligence aside, what we are already seeing is the use of narrow AI - that’s AI trained on a specific subject matter with an equally narrow response capability. Ask a bot trained to answers holiday travel questions about what the weather is like at your destination and it most likely won’t have a clue, but all you have to do is give it access to the data and train it. Building AI around your vertical is an ongoing process but one that gets better over time. 

Where to focus

It’s early days but brands can already take advantage of AI in the form of chat bots through ubiquitous platforms like Messenger and iMessage. You’re a subject matter expert about your category and your products, so now is the time to get all that data into a sophisticated logic engine, tied to a learning AI.  

Next, you can release it to the public so it can learn from tens of thousands of real-world data points. Once it has a critical mass of data it will start to connect the dots in users behaviour with surprising results. 

Now is definitely the time to invest in AI and chat bots or a 'brand brain' as I’ve coined it.

4. Image recognition and biometric tracking

Image recognition has been around for years but it’s always been overt in application. However, with recent software breakthroughs the technology can be found everywhere now in day to day experiences. Used SnapChat in the past 12 months? The lenses that change your face to a rainbow spewing pixie are using cutting edge facial recognition and real-time 3D mapping. It's tech that only 18 months ago was too much for your mobile phone’s processor.

Now that tech is becoming ubiquitous it’s a great time to explore what this has to offer in far more commercially beneficial ways.

Without much more than a basic PC connected to a webcam we can easily create applications that can track all kinds of biometric data. Think: gender, age, ethnicity, height, weight, all pretty obvious ways to use the tech. Here’s where it gets really mind-blowing though.  Through a new area of research called gait biometric technology (GBT) we are able to deduce what kind of buyer you are: spontaneous or considered. Is your body language saying that you are in a buying mood or just looking? Are you rationally or emotionally led? These are all behavioural traits imperceptible to the naked eye but now obvious to the computer eye.

Beyond human behavioural insights, image recognition is becoming pretty incredible at detecting everyday objects. While that may seem mundane there are fascinating opportunities like detecting what kind of plant is dying on your balcony and how to treat it. Computer vision is becoming more and more part of our lives in subtle and more obvious ways and it’s only going to get better. 

Where to focus

This one really excites me. For so long image recognition has been confined to utility that provided some kind of easing effect - think of that handy feature inside a lot of apps now that will scan a photo of your credit card and grab the numbers so you don’t have to type them in. That’s fine but it’s not really giving us anything new. The latest computer vision innovations are showing us things we’ve never seen before. To know where to explore ask yourself this question, “How would I benefit from knowing what people want just by looking at them?”

5. Voice control

We’ve all had a go of Siri, we’ve seen the ads and it typically shows people using it to perform very basic functions but to be fair most people don’t take advantage of the more interesting features and the fact that Siri voice control is baked in right across the iPhone experience. 

Try this one, “Hey Siri, create a note.” “Shopping list, bread, milk, eggs”.

She can do that all day long, as can Google’s Assistant - it’s slightly better at broader questions. And then there’s Amazon’s Echo and Alexa voice assistant; my US friends can’t stop talking about how it’s changed their lives. Yeah I get it, you can ask Alexa to add more milk to your Amazon Fresh shopping list and it get delivered in 2 hrs. Wait, that’s incredible!

The out-take of all this voice recognition technology and its ever increasing use, is that there is now a critical amount of data for the systems to learn at exponential speed. We live in a two-type technology world. Half of the technologies out there are released and they are amazing and complete day one. That’s because the hardware and software work in a discrete fashion - they have everything they need to be a magical experience from day one. All the late nights engineering the product have paid off, it’s amazing.

The second kind of technology is where the groundwork and smarts are there but the big data and user behaviour isn’t and so the experience is pretty average, like Siri 4 years ago, not great.

But now, voice recognition can sort the signal from noise so quickly and accurately that’s really worth using.

All that real-world use is paying off big time and the AI is getting really good at answering your questions.

This year we’ll see voice control popping up in more and more applications in everything from apps, to websites, to interactive displays, and even conversations with Chat-Bots who we will give a voice to very shortly.

Where to focus

Up until now you only had to cast an actor and decide on what kind of voice you wanted for your brand ad. Now you should be thinking about what your brand brain (see above in chat bots) or your digital brand should sound like?

Voice control is having its second wave renaissance and it’s going to be huge. Sci-fi’s been right about just about every kind of technology we use and love today so I’d bet our days tapping physical keys and moving little mice are numbered.

Start thinking how you can provide customers with ways to make their digital experience delightful. For example, cutting down manual entry into online forms, voice control can be implemented through the browser now.

Wrapup

Now that you know more about these five critical technologies, I want to challenge you. Start thinking about the possibilities when you start combining two or more of them. Things start to get really interesting. For example, virtual reality is totally immersive, but navigation and interaction is still clunky. Combine with voice control and it’s “Hey Barry, take me to the Barrier Reef please… Okay great! Now how about the surface of Mars?”.

Combine discrete biometric gait tech with chat bots and create an in-store virtual sommelier that knows exactly what kind of wine you like, before you even tell it.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, technology is always bringing us something new to adapt, remix and fuse with our brand experiences. It’s the most exciting part of the job….and to me this year and beyond it’s looking pretty interesting.

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