Predictions from ALPHA THINK – McBride Design


As virtual reality and behavior algorithms become more advanced, does the blurring of reality and simulated experience become a threat to the travel industry? Learning algorithms already define our habits and desires and are beginning to influence purchasing decisions and self-choice. Combined with the advancements of virtual reality interfaces, will the combination of these growing industries eliminate the need to physically explore the world? The travel industry should leverage artificial intelligence and enhanced experience technology to promote the spontaneity and physical beauty of real-world leisure.

FOLLOW THE WHITE RABBIT

It’s only a matter of time before we have the capability to build machines that are smarter, faster and more efficient than human beings. With the recent developments in artificial intelligence, quantum computing and room-temperature superconductivity, machines will eventually self-improve, leading to an explosion of networked intelligence. Allowed to evolve unchecked, the process could render what historian Yuval Harari describes as a “useless class.” The foundation of modern political and economic systems is the logical AND emotional combination of human purpose that creates consumers, workers and soldiers. With the influence and decision-making capability of AI, will less importance be placed on human emotion, value and contribution? This convergence of technology will have the ability to drastically alter our way of life and the evolution of mankind. Pioneers such as Bill Gates, Steven Hawking and Elon Musk all agree – it’s not just science fiction anymore. It’s a reality we will see in our lifetimes.

ESCAPE FROM REALITY?

If processor technology and refined quantum computing continue to evolve, what does that mean to the travel, restaurant and entertainment industries? As terrifying as it may seem, it’s either a benefit or a disaster for every experiential industry, depending on your point-of-view. Let’s make some predictions.

NO NEED TO THINK?

Many travel services and entertainment platforms are already utilizing algorithms (a form of AI) to qualitatively respond to information such as age, marital status, travel history, trends and typical online-spend amounts to create offers and advertisements more likely to entice consumers. These algorithms recognize patterns and pinpoint customers' trigger points with stunning accuracy. It's essentially the same technology that recommends everything from your Netflix offerings to your Amazon product preferences. This can extend all the way into the experience itself with customized location services, such as automated dinner and spa reservations (including private vs public table preferences), dietary needs, food preferences, temperature comfort and custom in-room music playlists and ambiance settings.

FREE-WILL OR FREE WELL?

Of course, if taken too far, the implications can be quite a bit sinister, ostensibly requiring us to think far less for ourselves. Psychological manipulation can occur more easily while our propensity for fallibility can be exploited. We’re already trusting algorithms to make important medical and financial decisions for us, so let’s follow it to the logical conclusion:

If a computer algorithm has the ability to know you better than yourself, would you listen to it when it suggests a destination to visit, movie to avoid, house to buy or person to marry?

When you think that the AI (or algorithm) can eventually say:

“I’ve known you since the day you were born. I am part of your life. I’ve recorded all of your calls and emails. I know your favorite movies, books and travel interests. I know your DNA, blood pressure and sugar levels (hospitals and doctors are increasingly linking data online), and know all the people that you’ve ever known or dated equally as well. I can make decisions better than you can.  Will you take my advice?”

Chances are that our lodging, restaurant and entertainment choices will be exactly what we love. The real question is, with this type of automation in place, what does it mean for these industries as an entity?  It will impact the entire service industry, and influence marketing, communication, advertising and operations.

BIG BROTHER IS A PAL

Connectivity is becoming the source of all meaning. Social currency is as valuable as real currency, and your status on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are social money in the bank. With the advancements of technologies such as VR, 360º onboard video and live streaming, a critical aspect of people’s experiences is the perceived excitement of transparency. Ask yourself:

If you could go on vacation to an exotic, interesting spot, but had to keep the experience entirely to yourself – no posting photos or videos and no sharing details of the trip with others – would you still do it?

This answer seems obvious for many, but for the upcoming "digital" generations, the answer you’ll increasingly encounter is "no." The power of shared experience is a key building block of Gen Z, and AI in the form of VR might just take that to the next level. 

WELCOME TO THE MATRIX

It’s a plot you’ve seen in numerous sci-fi movies, but if plugging into a fully immersive 360º multi-sensory virtual reality machine gives you an experience very similar to "being there," an experience that can be shared and enjoyed with others, what far reaching implications does this have for the hospitality and entertainment industries? Are we all destined to become "VR tourists?" As the interface between the brain and external electronic stimuli improves (or becomes a direct feed), how important will it be to physically be located in an interesting destination, theme park or favorite vacation haven? 

The Michael Crichton book, movie and recent HBO series, “Westworld,” takes place in a futuristic western themed amusement park where tourists can live out a real-life video game. AI "bots" can be programmed to act as friends, enemies or lovers. In light of some of the predictions being made by computer scientists about the future of AI, this plot seems more like a plausible prediction of what the future tourism industry may hold. Given that conjecture, what might the implications be? Would hotels be completely staffed by "hosts" with 24-hour functionally, completely immune to human error, rendering 5-star service obsolete? Would restaurant chefs become "hosts" that are programmed to create the perfect meal every time, eliminating the inconsistencies that often plague the restaurant industry? 

If so, the industry could shift to lean entirely on design.

Design will always depend on emotion, creativity and the human soul.  It’s an expression of art – not simulation. With service so immaculate, the differentiator of the experience might boil down to the location and its physical details...that is, unless the designers themselves are "hosts!"