You know that Bill Gates saying, “Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.” Well, that’s true, but he should also say, “Pay attention to gamers. They will tell you what technology will be cool in the future.”
Seriously, after attending CES for the first time, what really stood out to me was the number of mass-market products whose roots are in the gaming world.
Let me explain.
Star of the show
Amazon’s Artificial Intelligence assistant, Alexa, seemed to steal the show even though it ironically didn’t have a booth. The AI found its way into dozens of IoT (Internet of Things) devices in many areas of daily life. From vacuum cleaners to Ford cars to ordering meals, Alexa was everywhere. Most of us only know Alexa since it was announced in 2014, but it actually existed three years prior in a video-game known as Portal 2 under the name of GLaDOS. There are stark similarities between the respective developments of the two, and we can expect Alexa to follow GLaDOS’s path and develop a sense of humor over the coming years.
When it comes to health, the most exciting aspect of Alexa (and other sophisticated voice recognition devices) is its utter lack of user interface. One of the biggest barriers to technology adoption, especially by the elderly, is learning how to interact. This icon means this, this button does that, etc. This new wave of zero-UI technology removes that barrier and simplifies it to a communication method any user is already comfortable with. It's no wonder Amazon's little assistant was the belle of the ball.
A different POV
Another concept made cool and desirable by gamers was multiple computer monitors. The gaming community said, “Why should we be confined to one monitor while playing games?” So, the hardware company Razer unveiled Project Valerie, the world's first laptop to incorporate three built-in monitors. Yes, day traders were probably the first to use multiple monitors for computing, but as you can see, it was very crude and awkward. It was truly the gaming community who sought to make advances in this arena and made the multi-monitor set up a comfortable and desirable experience to the average person.
A bit more general, but equally important, is how Virtual Reality was first introduced to the world via video games. Virtual Reality is a concept dating back to the science fiction short Pygmalion’s Spectacles, where it’s described a goggle-based virtual reality system with holographic recordings of fictional experiences. Now, every time you blink, there is another industry considering VR content. The latest to dip their toes into the world of VR is the NBA, who has decided to broadcast a game every week in VR.
But, other than the gaming industry, which has always had a clear path to success, many VR verticals are lost when it comes to engaging users for longer than a few minutes. One industry that goes against this norm is, you guessed it, healthcare.
Patients receiving treatment or in recovery for long periods of time at a hospital are prime candidates for long-lasting, immersive virtual reality experiences. Anything to get their mind off of their current pain or sterile surroundings. Leading the charge is Brennan Spiegel, Director of Health Services Research at Cedars-Sinai Health System, who has done extensive research on the efficacy of virtual reality for pain management and is expanding the field with a new partnership with AppliedVR.
The dark horse
Last but not least on my radar is the company that was arguably the biggest success of CES 2017. Chances are you’ve never heard of them unless you build your own PCs… or are a gamer.
That company is Nvidia, who is largely known for their graphics cards (which are integral to the success of Playstation 3 and Xbox). They’re taking their extensive gaming experience and leveraging it to expand the scope of their business endeavors, and though they keep a relatively low profile, they had a few of their own big announcements to make this year.
At CES, they launched the first Android TV to support Google Assistant (Artificial Intelligence). Then, they announced a partnership with Audi (and Mercedes) to bring an autonomous car to the street by 2020. Along with that, they’ve developed a backseat driver AI that’ll assist any driver by pointing out hazards and just being a great “back seat driver”. Lastly, they launched Spot, a competitor to the Amazon Echo, and at just $50 (one third the cost of the Echo), they made it affordable to outfit all your rooms with AI.
What about healthcare?
Beyond my previously covered example of virtual reality's prospects in healthcare, there are no shortage of companies targeting game industry veterans for the development of digital health solutions. CES was abuzz with groups touting the value of "first-world" tech team members and often cited their experience in video games as a competitive advantage. A few highlights include:
- Grendel Games
A dutch company responsible for a wide catalog of successful healthcare facing video games covering everything from teaching children healthy behaviors to making rehabilitation exercises fun.
Former video game designers at Warner Brothers, Vivendi Universal, and Hasbro joined forces with one of the world's leading diabetes experts to create a new game for managing diabetes.
What happens when an orthopedic surgeon who loves video games and a veteran designer from EA and THQ join forces? Quite possibly the future of surgery simulation and training.
- Pear Therapeutics
Recently raised $20 million for their promising digital therapeutics product line and cites their diverse engineering team, including former video game designers, as a key component of their success.
The list of technology products that start in the gaming realm are seemingly endless, and it goes to show that innovation often happens in some of the most unexpected places. We'll see if more companies start poaching talent from the video game industry and whatt long-term impact we see on digital health. Judging by early examples, it appears this trend has the potential to be a game changer.