Getting To Grips With VR AI and EI: 3 Trends From Web Summit

Getting To Grips With VR AI and EI:  3 Trends From Web Summit

Over the next 20 years the world will see as much innovation as in the past 1000 years. That was how Antoine Blondeau opened his presentation at the Web Summit in Lisbon.

Before we dig deeper into the likes of virtual reality, artificial intelligence and emotionally intelligent robots, let’s just consider what this statement actually means? Over the last 1000 years, the concept of money was invented, the plague ravaged the world, America was discovered, the scientific revolution replaced the need for witchcraft laws, we landed on the moon and the internet was developed.

If the next 20 years truly hold as much innovation as the last 1000 years did, it will change the world as we know it today.


Up until my attendance at the Web Summit in Lisbon, I had only ever thought of Virtual Reality as an immersive gaming experience. However, at the Summit it became apparent that VR is increasingly used in the health industry. Its use includes overcoming fears or anxieties by simulating real life situations enabling patients to slowly adapt to realities, such as dealing with social phobia. VR has also been used to help paralysed patients regain muscle control. CTO of Facebook, Mark Schroepfer conveyed that by utilising the Facebook owned Oculus Rift patients were able to control a digital version of themselves and restore damaged neurons.


One of the benefits of attending the Web Summit is the tangibility that innovative companies offer on hyped technologies such as artificial intelligence. This was best demonstrated by Ben Goertzel when he presented a live demo of his robot Sofia. Seamlessly, Sofia was answering Ben’s questions about her use in the world, her need for citizenship and her ultimate goal in life: to learn so much from humans that she can get a job. Sofia’s human resemblance was extraordinary and my reference to Sofia as a person is clear evidence of this. Perhaps Sofia’s ultimate goal of being integrated into society is what is most scary, because we are beginning to create AI that itself is capable of developing more advanced AI.

I begin to wonder whether technology will be created by robots that we as humans don’t even understand. Ben Goertzel’s response to my worry was as dry as a desert when he coolly pointed out that we don’t entirely understand how humans work either, and so it wouldn’t be vastly different.


Finally, and perhaps as a consequence of the increasing capabilities of AI, there was a focus on programming for emotional intelligence. Pamela Pavliscak, representing the Change Sciences Group presented a remarkable wearable prototype that could measure your levels of happiness. The idea behind the product was to monitor your happiness levels when interacting with different people, enabling you to spend more time in company you enjoy. Equally as interesting was Rana el Kaliouby’s presentation of Affectiva’s technology that could recognise and match facial expressions with emotions. Amongst other use cases, this technology has been utilised to teach autistic children about emotional cues and how to respond to them in a social environment.

These trends will continue to dominate the technological landscape and will pave the way for more advanced systems allowing humans to shape and take more control of the world we see around us. The technical capabilities are immense and particularly AI will progress exponentially. Whether we as a society are ready for that advancement is another question all together.


This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.

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