The Ultimate Empathy Machine

Chris Milk TED TalkI just watched Chris Milk’s recent TED talk about virtual reality. He calls virtual reality the ultimate empathy machine. I see the vast potential of virtual reality – its use in therapy for psychological conditions like PTSD, gaming, education, and as a tool to help people create beautiful experiences. But I have to admit, my gut also has told me that virtual reality has more costs than benefits, more risks than payoffs. Perhaps I’ve read one too many future dystopia sci fi novels, but I have often thought that the temptation to reside in an artificial, constructed world of our own choice and design is too tempting for most of us; that eventually, when virtual reality is sophisticated enough, it will keep us from engaging in the “real” world in the ways we need to in order to have have substantial and lasting happiness. Think the creepy, organic virtual reality game consoles called “game pods” from the 1999 David Cronenberg film eXistenZ, and that’s where my mind goes.

treachery of sanctuaryBut Chris Milk might have just convinced me to question my gut, to think more of the artistic and humanitarian potential of virtual reality. Watch the talk to hear more about the amazing work he’s doing with the UN to vividly portray the plight of refugees to policy makers and the public through virtual reality. He also showed a film of the interactive art installation he created called The Treachery of Sanctuary. A boy stands in front of the piece, becoming a bird on the screen that he is viewing ….until all of sudden he takes flight to join the flock. I have to ask myself, why did that bring me to tears? Chris Milk believes that virtual reality is a machine that makes us more human. Perhaps the benefits could outweigh the risks.

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13 thoughts on “The Ultimate Empathy Machine

  1. Honestly, if you look at how most new tech gets implemented these days, virtual reality will likely be used mostly for porn/escapism at first. It’ll take a huge push from the educational industry (which is sorely lacking in cash) to get any mass-produced empathy software off the ground.

  2. I saw an interesting article this week about how they can use virtual reality to trick the brain into essentially thinking the body was invisible, and it helped the “invisible” person with social anxiety, etc.

  3. Your posts are very interesting. I recently reviewed text in master’s level organizational leadership coursework that references often the use of technology in business. Even further, it’s an expanding exploration of the ethical utilization of technology in the business setting. It would be interesting to translate some of the situations you mention into this setting. Thanks!!

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