Artificial Intelligence – Event go or no go?

Virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR respectively) have become part of our day-to-day lives with the introduction of consumer technologies such as VR headsets and downloadable AR apps.  A well-known example of this is the popular app Pokémon GO. Who would have thought years after Pokémon fell out of popular culture that it would make such a triumphant comeback? And what a way to do it, with over 500 million downloads of the app (and counting!) the numbers do not lie – augmented and virtual reality are here to stay.

Not only have we embraced virtual and augmented reality in our everyday lives, but we are also using them within our events. One such application is venues making use of 360 degrees VR technology to showcase their events spaces to prospective clients. These clients could be too far away, or perhaps just too busy, to perform a site visit in person. Using VR also has a positive environmental and financial impact for clients by cutting down on transportation and the associated costs.

Artificial Intelligence in the Live Events Industry

So could the next big thing to hit the live events industry be artificial intelligence (AI)? Gone are the days where we’d only use AI to ask Siri ridiculous questions like “what did the fox say” (yes we’ve all done it!) and receive equally ridiculous responses. AI is slowly but surely edging its way into our lives. The last decade has seen various robotic gadgets become mainstream, even entering our homes with developments such as the robotic hoover and Amazon’s Alexa.

But the question is how do such appliances cross over to the live event industry? And what effect will they have on those working with them on a daily basis?

Alexa Live on Stage

In October 2016 we received a brief from one of our clients to provide full technical production for a conference to be held at Wembley Stadium. The event was to take place in February 2017 and would be attended by 400 delegates. Plans progressed and the event started to take shape. Then the client dropped the bombshell that they would like to have an Amazon Echo ‘Alexa’ live on stage for one of the presentations. Our first reaction was that of terror because it’s not always possible to predict how Alexa might answer a question. She might reply with the correct answer to your question, or she may give you an answer to the question that she thinks you have asked. Around 80% of the time her responses are correct but there is a margin for error which can result in “Sorry I don’t have the answer to that”, or a completely random answer to a question you never asked. So when the client wants to have a presenter, with Alexa, live on stage in front of an audience of 400 people, it is understandable to have reservations.

Despite our initial concerns, we of course provided full technical support for the event, including Alexa. Onsite our sound technician rigged a tiny microphone stand for us to clip a mic on so Alexa could be heard, and we began to rehearse. Remarkably Alexa responded clearly and concisely, with a dash of humour thrown in. To say we were surprised (and relieved!) was an understatement.

Alexa was now show-ready and her moment in the spotlight had come. The presenter turned to Alexa and asked her 4 questions. We all held our breath, a little nervous of what Alexa might say in front of the large audience. But she did a great job and responded to all 4 questions without any issues. Jokes were made, the audience laughed, and the presentation was finished. It was back in the box for Alexa until her next performance.

How might the use of AI develop?

Working alongside machines such as Alexa may become more and more common. We may find Alexa onstage handling the Q&A sessions on behalf of a company. Another potential use could be delivering pre-recorded sections of a presentation. For example, if a speaker is unable to attend the event they could record their speech and have it delivered by Alexa. It’s even possible to use Alexa as musical entertainment during breaks, able to take requests from delegates and play them back.

We ran a poll and asked, “Artificial Intelligence: Event go or event no go?”. 72% of people came back with event go. It’s safe to say that the technology is here and is developing at a rapid pace, so it would be crazy to exclude AI from the industry.

In fact, we are looking forward to working with Pepper the Robot next week.