Eye on AI - June 18th, 2021
Welcome to Aigora's "Eye on AI" series, where we round up exciting news at the intersection of consumer science and artificial intelligence!
This week, we review an insightful article by Bernard Marr that discusses new ways virtual and augmented reality are being used to enhance the travel experience, then finish up by looking into a new photo transformation AI named “Deep Nostalgia” that revives worn photos with a life-like twist.
New Ways VR & AR Can Enhance the Travel Experience
We begin with a Forbes article by Bernard Marr, titled “Extended Reality In Tourism: 4 Ways VR And AR Can Enhance The Travel Experience,” which describes four ways the tourism industry could (and should) be using virtual and augmented reality to enhance the travel experience.
Virtual travel, the first option as described by Marr, seems the most obvious: open a VR video or pop on a VR headset and––SHAZAM!––you’re transported to another geographic location, hotel, etc. Even another world! Imagine strapping in next to Elon Musk during his first trip to the moon without shelling out a cool $55 million, or exploring Antarctica or the deep Amazon without suffering through those severe conditions or endangering delicate ecosystems. These kinds of experiences are entirely possible through VR.
“Virtual travel can also help visitors experience destinations that are remote, difficult to get to, or need to be preserved without humans trampling around all over the place,” writes Marr. “The Patagonia VR experience on Oculus Rift is one example of a particularly rich virtual travel experience.”
A second benefit is that VR and AR give prospective travelers the ability to preview potential destinations before committing to all the expenses and planning of physical travel. You can take a virtual tour of potential hotels, be walked through potential adventures or excursions as people experience them, or be guided through cities, towns, and countrysides to see for yourself what you may be getting into. Nothing virtual or augmented, at least to my mind, can ever match the sensory experience of physical travel––at least not yet. But a well-designed AR or VR tour can seriously boost travel, hotel, and even attraction bookings.
“British travel agent Thomas Cook experimented with immersive VR experiences that allowed customers to try out different excursions, including a helicopter tour of Manhattan,” continues Marr. “The company reported a 190 percent uplift in bookings for New York vacations after customers tried the five-minute New York VR experience in store.”
Through virtual reality, we have the ability to preview potential journeys. But through augmented reality, we have the ability to enhance physical travel journeys as they’re happening. A simple explanation is through navigation––you’re not familiar with places you travel to, but through AR-enabled route-finding features, such as Live View, available on all ARCore and ARKit-enabled mobile devices, and in any locations where Google already has Street View, you can be guided through foreign locations on your phone with arrows pointing the way rather than using the often confusing overhead view of Google Maps.
To take this idea even further, imagine traveling to a city rooted in history––Rome, for instance––walking down an old stone road near the colosseum, then holding up your phone to see the street recreated through AR, then scrolling through its physical past, century by century, all the way back to Rome’s founding! I don’t know of an application of AR that goes that deep quite yet, but it’s already possible with a bit of creativity and ingenuity.
AI Gives Old Photos New Life
Speaking of what’s possible, no one ever thought old, deteriorating photos could be revived to life-like quality. But thanks to a new photo-transformation AI called “Deep Nostalgia AI,” they can be––sort of.
“The Deep Nostalgia AI was developed by genealogy service MyHeritage to allow people to bring the past back to life… as a way to ‘give family history a fresh new perspective by producing a realistic depiction of how a person could have moved and looked’ if they were captured on video,” writes Independent contributor Anthony Cuthbertson.
To use the tool, users sign up through the MyHeritage site, then upload an old photo to the system. The AI runs the photo through a sharpening process, bringing fuzzy photos into focus, enhancing colors and photo deterioration and adding color to black and white pictures, then shares a short, high-quality video animation of an individual face from the photograph that includes subtle face movements . The result is a strikingly life-like, albeit somewhat creepy, video rendering that reminds me of those moving pictures from the Harry Potter series.
For anyone with old family photos on hand, this kind of technology could be a great way to gain perspective on the features of distant relatives or see your ancestors as they actually were rather than only their black and white rendering. Some rightly worry that the system may be abused to create deepfakes, and it certainly could be. Yet I don’t see that as a detracting issue, especially when you consider that Facebook just announced they’ve created an AI that tracks the origin of deepfakes. More concerning to me is the creepiness of the videos––do I really want photographs of my deceased ancestors winking at me?
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