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Pokémon Goes To The Office: GE Chief Economist Explains How Gaming and Work Are Merging

Marco Annunziata Ge
July 14, 2016

Gaming and technological innovation are merging. As they scale across industry, they will power the next wave of growth.


We all love to play. Just look at the reports on the latest Pokémon Go craze and you will see crowds of people roaming around Central Park in New York, or pacing the streets of San Francisco, hunting for silly-looking creatures.

The game’s meteoric rise seems to confirm the idea that digital innovations are all play and no work, all about games and social media, with no impact on productivity and economic growth.

I bet many techno-skeptical economists are out there now, succumbing to Pokémania. In fact, the only reason why I am sitting at my desk writing this blog is that a sore calf from a basketball game keeps me from walking more than a few blocks at a time — and Pokémon Go is all about mobility.

As you move around a city, a park, or a beach, your smartphone’s camera gives you an “augmented” view of your surroundings, so you can spot the fictional creatures under a real-life tree or perched on a real-life park bench. Pokémon Go will play a big role in speeding up my recovery…

Launched just a week ago, Pokémon Go has instantly popularized “augmented reality” (AR) — a digital technology that makes “virtual” objects part of the world around us (different from “virtual reality” (VR), which immerses us in an alternate universe). This new app is a turning point, leveraging advances in computing power, big data and geo-location software to change the way we perceive and experience the world.

Literally a game-changer…

But AR Is a Lot More Than a Game

Imagine having to repair a jet engine. Not an easy task. But what if you had a wearable device that allows you to see what you are supposed to do, and reacts to your voice prompts to guide you through the process step by step? This is what it’s like:

Imagine having to perform maintenance or repairs on the complex machinery in an offshore oil rig. No matter how smart and experienced you are, you will never have all the technical details in your head.You could take with you several heavy field maintenance manuals. Or you could take a special-purpose tablet, point its camera at the equipment, and it will identify the machine for you, allow you to see expanded internal sections of the machine without opening it, and show you how to perform the necessary operations.Companies like GE are developing these kind of industrial applications for AR that make work more productive, safer, and hopefully more fun. Virtual reality is making a similar quantum leap. It can now deliver full-immersion experiences so realistic they can almost overwhelm your senses. We can use VR to simulate the workflow in an entire factory. Using data from existing factories, we can experiment with alternative configurations, simulate the impact of technical failures or changing market conditions like a spike in demand; VR allows us to see how the workflow responds, spot unforeseen problems, identify ways in which the production process can be made safer and more efficient.

“We’ve been looking for ways to optimize our factories and VR seemed to us like a good idea,” says GE’s Neha Prajapat, an engineering tool specialist in Rugby. She’s also a gamer. Above: Prajapat and her team used Microsoft Kinect to study the movement of workers inside a GE factory. Image credit: GE)


Can This Make a Difference to Productivity?

It already does. Augmented reality and virtual reality help create the substantial efficiency gains of the digital-industrial world across a range of sectors.Can it still be fun? Just ask my colleague Claudio Cargnelli, who leverages his prowess at online gaming to modernize the world’s power grids.“Gamification” is an ugly word — but a very apt one. Digital and industrial are becoming one and the same. Gaming and technological innovation are merging — and as they scale across industry, they will power the next wave of economic growth.So now I will go see if I can catch a few Pokémons lurking near our office…What do you think of all this? How will AR and VR change the way we live and work? Would love to hear your thoughts, either on here or on Twitter (@marcoannunziata).

This piece originally appeared in

(Top image credit: Getty Images)

Marco_Annunziata-headshotMarco Annunziata is the Chief Economist and Executive Director of Global Market Insight at GE.



All views expressed are those of the author.