Lost in Virtual Space

Last month, we talked about AVaaS, (Audio Visual as a Service) and how it relates to the future of the rental and staging segment of our industry. My basic premise was that the current wave of cloud-based digital offerings has distorted our definition of the word “service,” much as social media has distorted our definition of the word “friend.”

Apparently, it provoked a response in our readers, because I got a lot of email (both pro and con), along with quotes from Alvin Toffler, Ayn Rand, Robert Heinlein, Gary Kayye and Dilbert.

So, while we are discussing our Brave New World (Huxley, anyone?) let us talk about all the other factors that obscure our future in clouds of, well, The Cloud.

Artificial Intelligence

We are told by the pundits that AI, or artificial intelligence, is the force that will change nearly every job on the planet. My personal feelings about artificial intelligence are similar to my attitude about artificial respiration — given a choice, I’d vastly prefer the real thing.

Now, I can see a number (alright, a lot) of uses for artificial intelligence in our industry, from the optimized loading and routing of trucks to the predictive ordering of supplies and scheduling of support staff. But how close will AI come to the actual show? Personally, I have never seen a show staged identically in any two venues and they very often change during multiple runs in the same house. Can Siri call a show? Can Watson compensate on the fly for the three pages of cues the presenter just skipped? Or will our new generation of clientele just change the requirements of a presentation so that they can? We’ll see.

Autonomous Vehicles

I’ve run a large rental company, with over 60 delivery vehicles scattered across 14 cities. And there was rarely a week when I wasn’t called about one, either by a branch manager who wanted to report some type of accident or incident, or by a disgruntled motorist who got our 800 number off a truck that they thought cut them off on a highway ramp. So I am an enthusiast about the use of autonomous vehicles, because I would then be able to forward those calls to the vehicle’s manufacturer.

But can an autonomous vehicle talk its way onto a union loading dock ahead of schedule? Or deal with the crowds and chaos that surround many public events?

I once worked with a field technician (for the purposes of this column, we will refer to him as “Ron Sakki”) who could reach any location in downtown Toronto, from our warehouse outside the city, in 20 minutes. However, many of the routes took him through vacant lots and parking garages. Now that’s autonomous.

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One of the earliest things I can remember as a young child was a black and white television series called “Lost in Space,” which featured a robot named “Robot,” whose principal function was to wobble around the set, waving its robotic arms and repeating “Warning! Danger!”, over and over again. So I can easily foresee the use of robots as hotel management.

But seriously, robots are already having an effect on our industry and are poised to have even more. I use a conferencing robot at my office to allow remote associates to tour the facility. One of my clients, a utility company, recently showed me a robot they use to inspect and pull underground cables and all I could think of was how great it would be to have one around for that cable somebody forgot to run under the stage. And three years ago I interviewed a guy at ISE who was already renting and selling robot security guards.

OK, so we’ll be working with robots. But how do we know what they’re doing when we’re not around?


Our industry went drone-happy years ago. I can’t remember the last large event I was at that didn’t somehow use an overhead drone shot. Most corporate event videos now look as if we have repealed the Law of Gravity. And, go ahead: Try explaining the damage the drone did to a chandelier to a hotel manager (who is waving his arms and yelling “Warning! Danger!”).

Mixed Reality

Technologies are a-changin’, and rather than try to define the differences between VR and AR, we’ve just decided to create an umbrella term in Mixed Reality (MR), the ability to interact with objects, creatures and situations that don’t exist. Back when I lived in Boston, we called it St. Patrick’s Day.

All kidding aside, VR and AR are already changing the way we present information, educate people, and even play games. Both technologies are really waiting for a “hero device” — superior imagery in eyewear that is lightweight, wireless and comfortable. But we delay in learning about these technologies at our peril, lest we be left behind when Tim Cook announces “iWear.”

Genetic Engineering

It is well said that genetic technology is the most dangerous field our species has ever ventured into. The ability to splice the gene is something each of us should be concerned about. Because somewhere out there, in a secret laboratory, an evil mastermind is working to create the autonomous hotel manager.