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Virtual reality made me believe I was someone else

March 25, 2014 | Telepresence Options


Story and images by Aaron Souppouris / The Verge

I am no longer Aaron Souppouris. I am a woman. I am a stranger. I stare down at the mask I hold in my hands, struggling to comprehend how those hands, which are clearly not mine, are allowing me to feel its curves and cracks. As I glance at the mirror in front of me, my new lip piercing glimmers under the harsh fluorescentlights. This is not a fever dream, not a hallucination, not even a video game. This is The Machine To be Another.

We're always finding new ways to connect with one another: email and text messages, Twitter and Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. And with every passing year, keeping in contact with friends near and far becomes easier. The concept of telepresence, of virtually being somewhere that you're not, has been a driving force behind this march of progress. Surgeons can perform operations remotely, business deals are hammered out on opposite sides of oceans, and millions of us use Skype and other services every day to beam our faces across the world. However, this "presence" is generally a one-dimensional experience. Even as Edward Snowden took to the TED stage via a Beam robot, his remote interactions were limited to sight and sound. The dream of true telepresence still eludes us.


BeAnotherLab�is a small team focused on experiential demos that promote empathy, tolerance, and self-understanding by showing you the world from another person's perspective. Its Gender Swap�experiment saw two people wearing cameras and Oculus Rift headsets synchronize movements and "swap bodies." But while that experiment made headlines, it only represents a small portion of what the team is trying to achieve. Under the A Machine To Be Another banner, it'senabled a disabled ballerina�to perform with full use of "her" legs, and put people in the shoes of a Senegalese dancer in demo called Being Youssoupha. In all cases, BeAnotherLab collects feedback on the impact and effectiveness of the experiments before trying them again.

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