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Perils of presence: VR allows the most detailed, intimate digital surveillance yet

December 27, 2016 | Telepresence Options

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Story and images by The Intercept

"WHY DO I look like Justin Timberlake?"

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was on stage wearing a virtual reality headset, feigning surprise at an expressive cartoon simulacrum that seemed to perfectly follow his every gesture.

The audience laughed. Zuckerberg was in the middle of what he described as the first live demo inside VR, manipulating his digital avatar to show off the new social features of the Rift headset from Facebook subsidiary Oculus. The venue was an Oculus developer conference convened earlier this fall in San Jose. Moments later, Zuckerberg and two Oculus employees were transported to his glass-enclosed office at Facebook, and then to his infamously sequestered home in Palo Alto. Using the Rift and its newly revealed Touch hand controllers, their avatars gestured and emoted in real time, waving to Zuckerberg's Puli sheepdog, dynamically changing facial expressions to match their owner's voice, and taking photos with a virtual selfie stick -- to post on Facebook, of course.

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The demo encapsulated Facebook's utopian vision for social VR, first hinted at two years ago when the company acquired Oculus and its crowd-funded Rift headset for $2 billion. And just as in 2014, Zuckerberg confidently declared that VR would be "the next major computing platform," changing the way we connect, work, and socialize.

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"Avatars are going to form the foundation of your identity in VR," said Oculus platform product manager Lauren Vegter after the demo. "This is the very first time that technology has made this level of presence possible."

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