#1164 – Entertainment’s General Intelligence!

The Out-of-Home Entertainment industry is a barometer of many trending technologies and applications. While the media is only just waking up to the opportunities and concerns of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), the application of this and the other aspects of “Big Data” has already been felt in the entertainment sector, as we chart now. 

Understanding the Language

While many people are more familiar with the term Artificial Intelligence (AI), the reality of the revolution we are seeing explode into the public domain is regarding AI research that has achieved “Artificial General Intelligence” (AGI) – the ability of specialized programming to achieve intellectual tasks, surpassing the capabilities of humans trying to achieve the same. And just to make the definition process even more complicated, social media giant Meta has championed adoption of their own interpretation, with “Generative Artificial Intelligence” (GAI) tool sets which they will employ to create targeted advertising.

Many of the abilities we are seeing being applied regarding AIG, are achieved through specialist algorithms. Data capture, through what is called “Machine Learning” (deep learning algorithms), that consumes data towards achieving specified tasks. These algorithms teach other algorithms to achieve the allotted task better and better through numerous iterations; and finally achieving a level of ability, through the resulting “Intelligent Agent”, that surpasses the capability of an average human to achieve the same activity.

It is the ability of these Intelligent Agents (or “Smart Actors”) that are employed towards activities, such as calculating operational procedures from factory logistics to website creation; and charting trends and requirements, from restaurant ordering to theme park attendance and staffing needs. All of this is achieved through feeding on “Big Data”, gathered through the constantly connected Internet of Things. The process is normally described as collecting its information from new data sources, combined with online search algorithms. We will look further at these smart actors and the use of AI-based bots in this feature, but first we ride the sea of entertainment data.

Frictionless Support

Regarding the collection and usage of data in the entertainment facility business, we need to look towards the migration of guest access to our venues, and how the process has been simplified and expanded. Cashless payment has been in adoption for the amusement and entertainment sector for many decades. The likes of TimeZone, one of the largest family entertainment chains, along with Dave & Buster’s, and several Japanese amusement sites (such as from SEGA and NAMCO), were the first to employ this tech back in the 1990s.

But it took the Global Health Crisis to force the sector to fully embrace the application. We have seen smart card payment, as well as smart phone payment apps, deployed across the international venue business. The value of this integrated chip card top-up approach, or the use of a specific smartphone app, offers a level of convenience that defines the concept of frictionless. But this also acts as a greater agent to facilitate play, removing many of the problems of dealing in currency, and achieving a higher spend and a better “Perceived Value” from the transaction. 

With these cashless payment applications, we have seen the deployment of smart registration systems, collecting valuable guest information to facilitate their group reservation needs and requirements, during their visit. These tools have collected user data for marketing and promotional means and, with the correct levels of data protection, have now employed this “Big Data” towards the improving and enhancing of the entertainment experiences. They are used to chart the popularity of games, prizes, and menu items, and remove much of the guess work from the process. 

Front of House

Regarding the “Enhanced Guest Experience” (EGE), the guests’ details can now be employed for targeted promotions based on experiences they may prefer, based on their habits. Their age and interests shape the entertainment visit, and are linked to promotional materials, specially tailored to the guests’ preferences, encouraging repeat visitation.

The latest of the smart payment platforms, such as from Embed, Intercard, Semnox Solutions, Nayax Tigapo, and Sacoa Cashless, look towards including greater customization for the operator to collect and utilize data. But this also allows the guests to modify the way they interact with the entertainment, towards “having it their way!” It is this pool of “Big Data” that the operator can mine, collecting the vital information regarding guest interaction. But not all operators are able or willing to navigate the mountain of data, and new tools have sprung up to sift, sort, and better represent this sea of information.

Platforms such as Connect & Go, ROLLER, Active8, Center Edge Software, Party Center Software and Ideal One Amusement Software are just some of the providers of solutions regarding the Point-of-Sale (POS) support, integrated guest online reservation, group ticketing, membership schemes, and follow-up marketing. Along with the most important element in all this being the EGE. With tools employing cloud-based data mining, a greater marketing and promotional presentation can be created and disseminated through social media apps. All these agents supplying detailed guest analytics that can go towards feeding that “Big Data” collection pool.

As we stated earlier, social media giants are looking at AI and GAI towards the creation of customized and targeted advertising – that will only appear for your unique circumstances and interests – generated from mined data. It is this kind of focused advertising that all forms of social media and commercial sales will employ, to achieve maximum engagement with an audience bombarded with targeted advertisements and promotions. In this sea of data mining, entertainment venues will have to be even more sophisticated to catch the attention of the new customer base.  

AI Applications

Many have surmised that The Stinger Report is written by robots (!), as we have covered the scene, including trending topics with our #RobotosareComing. The reality is that many media services are now turning their general editorial needs to AI-based systems – as revealed by BuzzFeed. Most famous, the use of AI-based algorithms in creating text, answering search questions, and even writing complicated editorials, as has been seen with ChatGPT (a powerful AI language system). As discussed earlier, these are the AI incarnations of the “Smart Actors”, taken to new levels with this chatbot system created by OpenAI

A furious arms race, between search engine providers, has broken out to offer chatbot features. The use of OpenAI Application Programming Interfaces (API) generation tools, have seen Google launching ‘Bard’, and Microsoft incorporating versions of ChatGPT into their ‘Bing’ search engine, and others – all with varying levels of success in attempting the creation of detailed answers to questions. The trend is even seeing some educators concerned about the level of intrusion which these API will be used for, to cheat in creating students’ coursework.

But it is beyond the bounds of the written text that these OpenAI AGI powered applications are growing, shaping image and video creation. With the supply of a few prompts by a user, and the AI, like with app DALL-E, the process creates sophisticated images in many styles – based both on their algorithm/s but also on the data pool of original images harvested from online sources. These AI-created images have grown in sophistication and have now migrated to the creation of rudimentary videos, evolving in their levels of quality. The use of AI-based images is causing questions regarding the ownership of the work created from harvesting data. (Just for our readers’ information, all the images for this report have been created by an AGI).

Already we are seeing this AI-created material being gradually employed in reviews and marketing for entertainment venues. These automated reviews, however, have the danger of only including information sourced from the limited accessible “Big Data” links, leaving a lot to the imagination in accuracy or readability. This is best illustrated by CNET, who abandoned their plans to roll out AI-created editorial after initial trials failed due to numerous missed errors.

The danger exists for these images created by AI to inaccurately represent the intended information – by fault of prompt or source material (“garbage in, garbage out” (GIGO)). Those sites that use AI-based guest facing services run the danger, as with all technology at an early stage of adoption, of it failing to meet the original needs outlined. Be that the supplying of inaccurate guest information or being caught directing information to the wrong opportunities. The vital need for a human in the loop has never been greater, no matter the opportunities and savings promised by the tech. 

Recognizing The Customer

The use of sophisticated tracking technology that can monitor movements and even purchasing preferences of the facility guests, have come to depend on AI through “Machine Learning” (ML) – the ability to collect data and then use this to improve on the process or performance of the task. Linked to “Computer Vision” monitoring (supporting QR codes), the ability to create the ultimate frictionless environment has been leveraged. A concept that has been trialled in cafeterias, airports, and stadiums, now comes to the mainstream.

This is best illustrated by ‘Amazon Go’ – a 20-strong chain of convenience stores (branded “Just Walk Out”), allow shoppers to download a smart app and then walk through a store, “grabbing what they want”, and then walk out without needing to visit a payment register. It is based on the patented Amazon “Smart Shelve” cashier-less technology. The company is not the only developer of such infrastructure, with a recent experiment by Dave & Buster’s, in partnership with Coca-Cola, using their own ‘Zippin’ AI tech – the creation of cashier-less snack counters for the entertainment chain, in yet another example of addressing staffing and convenience needs.    

As seen in the vending industry, the ability to use apps to ensure “just in time” refilling of machines inventory, based on predictive AI, has also played a part in streamlining the servicing of vending machines. This AI approach also helps shape menus and calculates better pricing models for popular dishes in some venues. Using smart shelve technology and a dedicated machine learning approach to charting guests’ preferences, the ability to maximize the hospitality aspect of the business can grow, with operators finding new profit streams they never knew existed. 

An interesting aspect of “Machine Learning”, beyond facility operation, is its employment in the games being deployed within these sites – games using the collection of players’ movements and behaviours through “Computer Vision” cameras, placed into an experience. This is best illustrated by Valo Motion’s new ‘ValoArena’ platform (“Immersive Enclosure”). The award-winning enclosure has up-to-six players taking part in various game experiences, their physical representation placed into the action, and their movements steering the outcome of the game – the latest application of “Motion Capture” (MoCap).

We see MoCap being employed in the latest “VR Arena” attractions from the likes of VEX Solutions, Hero Zone, Lightning VR, Creative Works, Dreamscape and SandboxVR (to name a few), with dedicated environments created virtually for multiple players to compete within. Their movements are captured by tracking systems, and the latest Extreme Reality (XR) “Immersive Enclosure” systems utilize similar advances MoCap, to be able to place the guests into the game. This is seen with platforms from Attraktions, TAITO, NeoXperience, INOWIZE, and from sites such as Immersive GameBox, Five Irons, and TOCA Social. The ability to place the guests into the immersive experience is driving a new world of innovation only achievable with the ability to handle “Big Data”.

Another aspect in embracing AI is towards the creation of in-game avatars (non-player characters (NPC)). The dream of having smart NPCs, and even lifelike avatars, has been a dream of gaming. Now, using ChatGPT and other AI systems, this takes a step closer, with research into the consumer VR game ‘Golf+’. This experiments with an “AI caddy”, who’s interactions with the player are enabled by the technology, while the “caddy” offers advice on the best clubs for the course, and how to play the game. While in an early experimental stage, the concept is proving interesting, and again, in commercial entertainment this could be another element in freeing up staff for other duties. 

The creation of an AI character to interact with guests is best illustrated with the work from Animalive – a company that has worked on bringing virtual characters to life. Originally, the company used advance MoCap to allow “Vactors” (virtual actors) to supply the movements and words for digital characters, such as seen with the ability to have animated characters act as mascots and guest greeters. Now, working closely with specialists in the children’s birthday party business (Birthday University), for FECs, the company has launched ‘AnimalKidsParty’ – a live interactive animated show, with smartphone AR elements, to allow the party guests to interact with the CGi characters. The future use of the latest AI technology will allow a raft of virtual characters to be recreated as interactive entertainers, deployed in businesses of all sizes.

Back of House

Away from the customer-facing space, the opportunity to offer an enhanced guest experience results in the maximum needs being achieved from the venue’s services. The management team is able to use the collected data effectively to maximize their activities, and not waste their efforts. This even more important with current staff shortages and the increased cost of living pressures on revenue.

The information collected from the online reservations services shapes the staffing and food preparation needs. The ability to know how many people are playing certain games and enjoying attractions, helps shape buying habits – removing the inaccuracies of “gut instincts” when deciding which machines to replace and which to keep. Smart data collection can also maximize the placement of hardware to best meet the flow of guests through a site. Meanwhile, the replacement of the cashbox for frictionless payment also allows the issues of theft and skimming to be minimized. 

Enhanced management skills, such as weighing food waste, allows for a better economy of scale in food preparation. Along with smart stock procedures linked to data. And the use of data collected from more focused guest surveys and questionnaires (from regular and first-time customers) creates that all-so-important “Big Data”. This can be fed into the “Smart Actors” and then used to create modelling tools and operational analysis – all under the watchful eye of AI.    

Autonomous Serving

The needs of food preparation and serving to be maximized on site, with staffing restrictions impacting all businesses following the pandemic, and the recessional period, have never been greater. As with “Frictionless”, the technology of autonomous serving devices (“Hospitality Robots”) has grown from these privations. As reported in our Restaurant & Bar Expo 2023 coverage recently, the profusion of new systems aimed for the hospitality entertainment landscape has grown from providers such as Keenon Robotics, Bowlmarc Robotics, Richtech Robotics, and many others. These robots are employed for information services, order delivery, table service, and even facility cleaning. All achieved by autonomous platforms, combining the latest computer vision, and AI management.  

But these delivery robots can also be employed beyond food serving support. We are seeing autonomous devices delivering to guests sterilized bowling-balls and bowling-shoes, golfclubs, and go-kart helmets – like concierge robots now seen in hotels. Meanwhile, we see the use of smart facility tracking, addressing the bottlenecks in the staffing process, and elevating them with smart serving solutions. The future is also looking at the deployment of autonomous vehicles in guest transportation (the ultimate people movers), allowing big and small facilities to relocate groups of guests, maximizing capacity without tying up staffing. 

Also, regarding entertainment, new “Smart Karting” platforms employ autonomous safety and operational features that will take control of the vehicle. This ability of autonomous control is even being employed in gamification, as added to the karting experience. The loading and unloading operation of the new e-kart vehicles is now achieved through an autonomous process, freeing staffing for more important duties. Trackless, “Autonomous Ride-Vehicles”, have become a valuable addition to the theme park attraction armoury. Seen in the revolutionary attraction ‘Rise of the Resistance’, at Walt Disney World, this technology allows big attractions to be scaled down.

Greater deployment of autonomous ride vehicles will be supported by the greater appearance of “Character Robots” (supporting costume cast members). This is seen with the Spiderman “Stuntronics Robot”, employed by Disney at their Avengers Campus. Autonomous animatronics, and increased guest immersion, are driving innovation in the entertainment scene. This mirrors much of what is being developed by CGi AI-based characters, and is not just for the bigger parks, but eventually, through cost-savings, also across the smaller entertainment venues.

And finally, we touch on the last current applications of “Big Data” within the entertainment venue experience. The use of the technology, not just in charting the guests’ progress, is also driving the future experience – totally unique, always changing.

What has been described as “Immersive Dreambox”, these are the creation of computer-generated visual environments through projection and special screens, which can place the guest within an all-encompassing immersive experience. A mixture of MoCap, and XR to create a EGE environment. To date these have been seen employed in “Artainment” installations such as Frameless and Lightroom; but this is a level of technology that will be used to create a new generation of social entertainment. 

All using “Big Data” to create an experience that is like no other and ensuring that the future guest is drawn to visit and stay in the entertainment space of tomorrow.

About the author

Kevin Williams

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The brainchild of two location-based experience enthusiasts, Christine Buhr and Brandon Willey, the LBX Collective aims to inform and educate, create opportunities to connect with industry peers, and to spur collaboration, discourse, and cross-pollination of ideas.

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