From voice-activated personal assistants such as Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa to Tesla’s self-driving cars, airports using facial recognition for ID and security to room service delivered via robots, artificial intelligence (AI) is everywhere.
It’s no surprise then that the events industry has latched on to AI’s potential—the technology offers planners the ability to enhance attendees’ experiences and build greater levels of engagement. And that’s just for starters.
Agency Auditoire has implemented AI and ‘bot’ technologies at several events in China, including the national launch of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class long wheelbase, held in Beijing in August last year. The event—an evening showcasing AI, featured a display with stereoscopic 3D projections, where 1,500 guests walked between real and virtual worlds, witnessing the debut of the car.
“All invitees received an invitation to register and input information via an interactive digital platform,” explains Antoine Gouin, managing director at Auditoire Asia. “Once attendees arrived at the event, all they had to do was register with our robot receptionists and receive their RFID wristbands. This was a great advantage in the use of AI because the event could be customised to every person’s style and preferences, personalising the consumer experience.”
Gouin believes that one real benefit of using AI for events is its versatility and the fact that it can be adapted to any occasion; there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ AI solution. Cutting-edge robots, SociBots, VR demos—Gouin says all of these can be used to make an event unique, innovative and interactive, to the extent that the audience will always remember it.
Andrew Zipparo, associate creative director at Jack Morton Worldwide, China, believes that some of the most promising AI tools for events include concierge apps, deep learning and voice activation. Concierge apps are especially useful for large exposition or conference-style events, he says. “They shrink the interaction scope to a much more personal level, providing exclusive assistance that would be financially inviable, or impossible with human staff.”
Deep learning refers to extracting bits of data from event photos, videos and even voices picked up in the background.
“The data can be crunched to find out how guests are interacting on-site and even predict how they would react in future scenarios,” says Zipparo. “This is extremely useful for planning an event’s key performance indicators and making sense of big data clumps.”
Greg Crandall, director of brand engagement at Pico+, says much of how AI can be applied to events can be gleaned from how the technology is being used in other industries. He points to how AI’s depth of up-to-date knowledge and personal interaction is just one exciting aspect, with an example being IBM’s deployment of its AI platform, Watson, in cancer research.
“Watson had the ability to crunch massive quantities of current research and information, playing an active and successful role in finding treatments,” he says. “AI could eventually take on the role of a participant on a discussion panel or a roundtable.
Another example of AI’s potential involves crowd response to content. Crandall says Disney is one pioneer using AI and machine-learning to help register crowd reactions to films. “By using heat maps and facial-recognition information, quick decisions can be made on content, audience and flow,” he says. “This has enormous relevance to events as well, in the form of measuring and eliciting feedback of an event’s success, and in driving content decisions.”
Opportunities and challenges
Etienne Chia, VP, digital and strategy, APAC, at FreemanXP, says the biggest challenges with AI are similar to any other new technology. At a high level, this relates to lack of knowledge and understanding, while at a more operational level, it is about planning, integration and collaboration.
“When it comes to events, the biggest opportunity lies with intensifying the guest experience through enhanced personalisation and the enabling of more frictionless interactions and engagements,” he says.
This could be through recommending workshops and seminars based on guest preferences and interests, or by providing contextual notifications that trigger meaningful user actions and feedback. Facial recognition and voice-activated support, such as smart assistants, are also helpful tools for increasing the value and efficiency of time spent at events.
Chia gives the example of when FreemanXP created an Amazon-sponsored Alexa experience at a marketing automation conference. The agency customised Alexa with a library of entertaining responses to attendee questions, developing a unique personality and atmosphere for the event in the process.
An AI application for events currently being tested by the agency’s teams is based on ‘generative design’; it is trialling this with the client to design optimised floor plans for an annual show.
“After feeding the system large quantities of data such as booth arrangement, partner requirements, venue access restrictions and visitor flows, the AI generated over 12,000 different possible floor plans, which we later narrowed down to about 200 with additional parameters,” explains Chia. “This resulted in a plethora of options for us to choose from and a radically different layout than those we would have obtained from a traditional design process.”
With its reliance on information, AI needs really good data, and a lot of it, in order to learn about the world and make enough cross references to come up with accurate responses.
“With this in mind, creating a bespoke AI app can be a big investment,” says Jack Morton Worldwide’s Zipparo. “But repurposing a good off-the-shelf app can be an effective alternative; with clever repackaging you can expedite the process and get maximum use without requiring all the initial development investment.”
The human touch
Libby Zhou, project director of digital studio at agency Uniplan, believes AI is still an underlying technology, what she calls ‘narrow AI’. “It is based on pre-programmed questions, like ‘What’s the weather today? What time is it?’” she says. “With all the AI tools available, event professionals can have quick access to information, allowing them to act quickly to identify marketing opportunities, or act on security issues.”
While AI can bring a new level of speed and experience to the plate, Zhou says it still cannot replace human experience. For example, when a guest walks into an event, a genuine and warm smile can never be replaced by advanced robots.
As Auditoire’s Gouin outlines, the most important thing to bear in mind when implementing AI technology is that what makes the event unique and innovative is not just the type of tech tool chosen, but how it is designed specifically for individual human behaviour.
“In order to produce a successful event and to secure a digital advantage we need to focus more on ‘technology adapted to people’, because at the end of the day, events are a base for human interaction,” he says.