“Virtual reality” and “artificial intelligence” are two phrases you’ll likely be hearing for years to come because they are becoming much more prominent in the tech world. Artificial intelligence is a system that can gather information and take actions that allow it to achieve its goals, whatever those goals may be. Virtual reality, or VR, is a technology that uses projected environments and realistic images to simulate the user’s presence in a new, virtual environment.
Virtual reality has actually been around a lot longer than most people think. Its exact origins are unknown, but elements of what would become virtual reality appeared as far back the 1800s, when the stereoscope was invented. This device used mirrors to combine two images into one that looked like it had three dimensions. But the first truly immersive visual experience came in the 1950s, when Morton Heilig created and patented the “Experience Theater.” A prototype was built in 1962 and would be marketed as the Sensorama. This device displayed several short films with stereo sound while incorporating vibration, wind, and odor emitters to engage all of the senses.
In 1968, Ivan Sutherland and his students helped create the first head-mounted display system to fully immerse the user in simulated applications. Compared to what’s out on the market today, these display systems were quite primitive, but they set the blueprint for the future.
While virtual reality has been changing and improving over the years, so has artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence, or AI, began more as a storytelling device in science fiction rather than something that could exist in real life. However, as humans’ understanding of math, science, and technology progressed, it became a possibility that computers could someday be used to simulate human-like reasoning. As this field of study developed, research was often funded by governments or other organizations, and when they weren’t happy with the progress being made, the funding would dry up. This meant that there were long stretches of time where artificial intelligence wasn’t improving or even being worked on. It wasn’t until the late 1990s and early 21st century that artificial intelligence truly began to come into its own, and it has since grown by leaps and bounds.
In recent years, there have been major advances toward merging VR and AI to create immersive simulated environments that truly adapt to humans’ perceptions and responses. This could provide incredible opportunities that could change our everyday experiences.
The merging of these two technologies could be great for the travel and tourism industry. Customers could use VR to get an up-close look at potential destinations, and AI could help to guide them toward options they’d prefer and book their trip. These technologies could also be boon to retail sales: VR can allow customers to try on clothing or test-drive a car, and AI can be used to power virtual sales associates that can answer questions and provide personalized recommendations. AI can also learn about customers’ preferences and behaviors to help businesses learn what improvements they can make to boost sales.
Perhaps the biggest opportunity for the combination of VR and AI is in the world of entertainment. VR headsets have already become part of the gaming and entertainment industries, and the introduction of AI to these simulated environments could create more immersive and intelligent games and activities that make players feel like they are really inside of the game environment.
VR and AI have made leaps and bounds since they were first conceptualized, and now, in a thriving tech industry, there’s no better time for the two technologies to come together to create more immersive entertainment, shopping, and travel opportunities.
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