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Virtual Reality: The Ultimate Empathy Machine?

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A long wooden boat glides through the water, passing by the stilted houses that tower above it. Someone leans out of a window, watching from above as the boat carries you past.

The perspective shifts inside the virtual reality headset, and in the next moment, an elephant reaches toward you while its herd ambles across the tall grass. Although reality itself becomes distant when wearing the headset, the virtual simulation feels no less real than the outside world.

In the Ted Talk “How virtual reality can create the ultimate empathy machine”, Chris Milk speaks to the technology’s immersive potential.

“[Virtual reality] connects humans to other humans in a profound way that I’ve never seen before in any other form of media, and it can change people’s perception of each other,” says Milk. “And that’s how I think virtual reality has the potential to actually change the world”.

How can virtual reality change the world?

In the video, Milk shows a virtual reality demo called “Clouds Over Sidra”. The film features a 12 year-old Syrian girl named Sidra, who lives in a refugee camp. Virtual reality users may feel as if they are in the same room as Sidra and can experience her everyday life as a refugee.

While virtual reality offers a simulation of the world, it also provides the user with a powerful first-person perspective of another real human being. When it comes to changing the world, people need empathy and understanding to take those steps towards positive change. As Milk pointed out, films such as “Clouds Over Sidra” can be shown to people who make decisions that affect the lives of the people they learn about in the virtual reality films.

“So it’s a machine, but through this machine we become more compassionate, we become more empathetic, and we become more connected,” says Milk. “And ultimately, we become more human.”

Movie watchers are now placed within the frame, and they can walk in the shoes and stories of different people. In all, virtual reality’s immersive experience creates conversation around complex issues and allows humans to better understand each other.

 

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