If there were two technological advances that were said to have come of age in 2017, they were surely virtual reality and artificial intelligence. While the use of the former is there for all to see – you can hardly miss someone wearing a pair of VR goggles, after all – the application of AI can be much subtler. So subtle, in fact, that many people don’t notice it all.
For example, how many people realize that it’s AI that helps to filter out the email messages that seem to spam, despite the spammers’ best efforts to always stay a step ahead? Or that it’s this technology that helps companies like Uber and Lyft to manage their surge pricing at times of especially high demand?
In fact, for the majority people, if you asked them for an example of AI in everyday use today, most would probably cite either Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Echo but not be able to go much further than that.
Nevertheless, AI is already providing huge benefits and making life easier, and even safer, for more people than ever realise it and will do this more and more. So as we head into the future we are going to need an ever-increasing number of talented computer science graduates to develop it.
Most agree that something that has both created some of the need for AI, as well as providing the fuel that drives it, is the rise of big data. With huge amounts of information that need to be processed if they’re not simply to go to waste, the value of harvesting it has never been greater. Then it can be harnessed and used to help computers make ever more nuanced and accurate decisions about everything from the flow of a city’s traffic to the shopping preferences of a consumer.
The gaming connection
But for all of its practical uses in everyday life, one industry that has arguably done more than any other to explore and exploit the potential of AI is gaming. As early as 2001 games like the mould-breaking Black & White and The Sims were first starting to use AI to enhance player involvement and to create experiences that were as far away as it was possible to be from the earliest days of video games like Pacman and Space Invaders.
It doesn’t need too much thought to realise exactly why this link between gaming and AI exists, and also why it’s so very important. The vast majority of games, if not all of them, involve drawing the player into an alternative world, whether it’s a battle zone with marauding zombies, the exploration of deep space or trying to create a theme park for dinosaurs like next summer’s much anticipated Jurassic World: Evolution.
But the world, any world, is a complex place with millions of interactions taking place at any time, many of which affect the others in subtle or not so subtle ways.
For a long time, games developers had to handle this progress through a game with what was effectively a script based on a flow diagram, so if ‘A’ happens then there’s the choice of ‘B’ or ‘C’ and so on. But the use of AI introduced a whole new dynamic in to the action in which the progress of the game could become much more random, free-flowing and true to life.
Of course, it’s not just online gaming companies that are keen to exploit AI and big data, it can also be very useful for those other great innovators, online gaming sites. Whether by finding out playing styles in games like poker or roulette or even identifying slots players. Many sites now provide online slots with free spins and no deposit; this ensures the player gets a feel for the game before they commit any money to it. AI will allow sites hosting online slots to offer a more tailored product; potentially making it tougher for the player as the machine outwits them. However, the games will immerse the player, which can be to everyone’s advantage.
The changing role of NPCs
One area in which AI has been particularly useful is in the way in which Non-Playing Characters can now be treated. Whereas before they tended to hang around in the periphery of the main action maybe spouting a standard line of dialogue when prompted, the use of AI can make them, if not integral to the action, a valuable addition to it by displaying distinctive characteristics and even interacting with the main characters too.
Another key way that AI can enhance the playing experience is by “learning” the playing habits of the player and subtly adjusting the action to suit and to create an altogether more individually-tailored game using the data gathered online to achieve it. This is obviously also a very useful marketing information too as, by discovering what particular features and characteristics of a game a particular player favours, other similar ones can be promoted and recommended.
So, there’s no doubt about it, both big data and AI are here to stay and the innovations that are being driven by online gaming are sure to soon filter out into more mainstream applications. The result, inevitably, is going to be a smarter society in a countless number of ways.