Will AR and VR Be Our New Reality?

Vantiv VR/AR Commerce

Facebook’s F8 conference is one of the largest conferences for developers and entrepreneurs. Starting in 2007, the event has had a different focus each year on what is the next big thing for the social media giant, with breakout sessions on more tailored topics.

While last year’s conference focused on Facebook’s 10-year roadmap, this year’s focus was on AR, VR and bots. To learn more about how these technologies will likely impact shopping, entertainment, gaming, content creation and consumer interaction with businesses, PYMNTS’ Karen Webster sat down with Vantiv’s Head of Developer Integrations, Matt Ozvat, and Director of Mobile Product Management, Tony Rose.

When it comes to bots, it seems like every business is trying to work its way onto the scene. Although there have been a reported 100,000 bots created on Facebook’s Messenger platform, there are still some businesses that aren’t quite so sure whether or not to move forward, and what exactly a bot can do for their business.

“When you look at the bot, there’s an underlying technology there that is basically a friendly human response algorithm. There’s a new kind of coders and practice coming out of development around ‘how do you write algorithms that have a human friendly response?’” Ozvat said. “The friendly human response algorithm, when it becomes more relevant, that’s what Facebook is going to tout. They’re experts at understanding humans and how they interact with one another. They’re analyzing all of this, and they’re looking for human patterns and behaviors to help build that human response algorithm. That’s how they’re trying to connect the better assistant experience.”

“What’s going to happen is, we’re going to see tremendous opportunity for new types of marketing,” he continued. “It’s going to be done in that human response kind of way. Pop-up ads are annoying, but this will help lessen that. Facebook knows everything about me, but now take that into a business app and the content is so much more relevant. The Messenger is a stepping stone to the rudimentary of creating engagement.”

While group messaging isn’t quite there yet on Facebook’s Messenger, when it comes to determining what’s the best route to go for artificial intelligence to step in to make recommendations based on large conversations, the technology is still in its infancy stages.

In regards to group messaging efforts, Rose said, “It adds more context. The more challenging problem is if you’re already having trouble booking one person on a flight; booking flights for everyone at once may be an issue. Quick-serve restaurants are toying with a more simple idea like booking a table.”

Just last year, Facebook’s VP of Messaging Products, David Marcus, commented on how messaging will become people’s new inbox. This year, he predicted that messaging is going to become people’s living room, where you can be more relaxed and organize priorities.

Which brings up the topic of voice-activated messaging systems and the future of interactive environments. Webster questioned where voice will be heading in terms of innovating, replacing or complementing messenger apps already in place.

“Looking at Alexa and the new one that Google came out with,” Rose said, “there’s been voice recognition engines. We can speak and type into a computer today and both of those are vehicles into an engine that can recognize your triggers and pull something open. With snail mail today, I check mine once per month. As I was so inundated with physical mail, I went to email, which turned out to be the same thing, which eventually led to instant messages and instant notifications. Now they’re taking the concept of making it your home.”

If the communication channel moves into an environment system, there’s the possibility of opening up people to being monitored to get additional value-adds. Rose was wary: “People will be inundated, and they’ll want to be disconnected. But when you’re at work, you’ll want those pop-ups. I like the concept that if you can pick and choose when you want your features to be enabled, you’ll feel in more control and won’t feel inundated.”

While the barrage of incoming communication from various organizations and brands can feel overwhelming for consumers, there is a fine line between being helpful and being intrusive. Rose commented that the level of bot engagement via hand-over protocol isn’t at the running stage yet.

“A lot of these social problems have yet to be solved — even with this last election with the fake news,” Rose explained. “These are all part of the same types of social engineering challenges that we’re still grappling with.”

In terms of what the future holds for Facebook’s Messenger and bot integration, the way in which brands are thinking about it within the next year is likely to focus on a few different things.

“We can look at a crawl-walk-run model. We’re at a crawling phase right now where we’re barely getting basic plumbing in place,” Rose said. “The next year with the chat extensions being able to have a group engage with a bot is pretty interesting. Those kinds of things … should be pretty feasible and hand-offs may be in place. I’m less excited about what AI can do — it has a long way to go before it can contextually have that human response Matt was talking about. AI is having tremendous leaps and bounds. Voice interface vs. text interface vs. AR/VR interface — how does that type of group experience come together where AI can figure out intent, because it’s a voice interface versus text interface? Different modalities offer different abilities to be more efficient to work with the technology in more human-centric ways.”

Ozvat added: “One year from now, it will be focused on Facebook’s stock price. This is a big revenue generator for them. They’re doing this for marketing to get data to sell for consumer exposure. A year from now, the concept of the auto-bot marketing success is going to be really interesting to be able to proliferate that through social media or other avenues. Success metrics are going to be talked about a year from now — they’re going to talk about the marketing increase, which will have better buying power.”

While all of these technologies are ramping up, Ozvat comments that it’s “too early” for Vantiv’s clients. He explained, “This is a good value-add if the folks have already figured out their EMV from a payment-tech perspective. This is a value-add for the folks [who] are willing to be ahead of that, and that’s why I’m thinking it’s going to be [the] card-not-present easier kind of use cases.”

“In terms of tech adoptions, early adopters are doing in-app and mobile web payments — there are a handful that have brought this to my attention in the quick-serve chain,” Rose added. “Now, they’re asking what’s next. It’s still in a very R&D perspective — we’re not out there pitching ‘everyone needs a chatbot’ right now.”

The brands that are likely moving into heavily investing in the AR/VR visual side of these technologies will be in the entertainment space. Ozvat mentioned Disney as a possible leader in this arena, as it places importance on engagement in a visual manner.

“Facebook wants engagement,” he said. “There will be VR games. Oculus is based on engagement and gaming. For AR/VR, it will probably go in the order of entertainment and then gamers [who] are already on that Facebook platform.”

Whether its entertainment, games or for pure communication purposes, the future of bots, VR and AR is certain to bring about unique engagement changes moving forward.