ISPR Presence News

Category Archives: Presence in the News

News stories explicitly or implicitly related to presence from a wide variety of sources

Newcastle U study explores prospects and ethics of VR porn

[This news release from Newcastle University describes a new study that raises important questions about the ethics of presence in the context of sexuality; see also researcher Matt Bloom’s opinion piece in The Conversation. –Matthew]

The ‘reality’ of virtual reality pornography

How the latest digital technology could blur the line between reality and fantasy, pushing the dangers of porn to a whole new level.

Published on: 19 May 2017

Experts at Newcastle University, UK, are investigating how virtual reality is changing the experience of pornography.

Through headsets such as the Facebook owned Oculus Rift and Playstation VR, the technology allows the user to become an active part of these ‘new’ sexual experiences.

Presenting their research at the CHI 2017 conference, the Newcastle team say the growing popularity of VR technologies that put users into experiences where previously they were an onlooker, could mean the extreme, degrading or even abusive imagery in pornography becoming all the more ‘real’.

Now the team, based in Open Lab, part of Newcastle University’s School of Computing Science, are calling on the digital community to take responsibility for this emerging technology and to help inform the development of this “very prominent, but not often talked about, ‘human-computer’ interaction”. Read more on Newcastle U study explores prospects and ethics of VR porn…

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Audi installation lets you create racetrack in sandbox, then test-drive it in VR

[The creative marketing tool described in this story from Medium raises interesting questions about the roles of scale, personalization and nostalgia in presence experiences. The original story includes other images and both mentioned videos; an interactive 360 degree demonstration video is available from Audi Norway and on YouTube. The project is a logical extension of the AR Sandbox created at UC Davis. –Matthew]

Read more on Audi installation lets you create racetrack in sandbox, then test-drive it in VR…

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Presence for the past: Technology delivers nostalgia on demand

[This story from The Atlantic is about how a variety of technologies will increasingly allow us to reproduce vivid memories; note the important comments near the end about some of the ethical implications of these developments (some of which echo concerns about telepresence after death). The original story includes an infographic titled “The Machinery of Memory: A Timeline.” –Matthew]

[Image: Credit: Alvaro Dominguez]

The End of Forgetting

Technology delivers nostalgia on demand.

Ben Rowen
June 2017 Issue

When Uncle Joshua, a character in Peter De Vries’s 1959 novel, The Tents of Wickedness, says that nostalgia “ain’t what it used to be,” the line is played for humor: To those stuck in the past, nothing—not even memory itself—survives the test of time. And yet Uncle Joshua’s words have themselves aged pretty well (despite being widely misattributed to Yogi Berra): Technology, though ceaselessly striving toward the future, has continually revised how we view the past.

Nostalgia—generally defined as a sentimental longing for bygone times—underwent a particularly significant metamorphosis in 1888, when Kodak released the first commercially successful camera for amateurs. Ads soon positioned it as a necessary instrument for preserving recollections of children and family celebrations. According to Nancy Martha West, the author of Kodak and the Lens of Nostalgia, the camera “allowed people … to arrange their lives in such a way that painful or unpleasant aspects were systematically erased.”

Technology is poised to once again revolutionize the way we recall the past. Not so long ago, nostalgia’s triggers were mostly spontaneous: catching your prom’s slow-dance song on the radio, riffling through photo albums while you were home for the holidays. Today, thanks to our devices, we can experience nostalgia on demand. The Nostalgia Machine website plays songs from your “favorite music year”; another app, Sundial, replays the songs you were listening to exactly a year ago. The Timehop app and Facebook’s On This Day feature shower you with photos and social-media updates from a given date in history. The Museum of Endangered Sounds website plays the noises of discontinued products (the chime of a Bell phone, the chirping of a Eurosignal pager). Retro Site Ninja lets you revisit web pages from the ’90s.

This is just the beginning: While these apps and websites let us glimpse the past, other technologies could place us more squarely inside it. But although psychologists believe nostalgia is crucial for finding meaning in life and for combatting loneliness, we don’t yet know whether too much of it will have negative, even dystopian, effects. As technology gives us unprecedented access to our memories, might we yearn for the good old days when we forgot things? Read more on Presence for the past: Technology delivers nostalgia on demand…

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VR, art, re-enactment hybrid ‘Carne y Arena’ simulates a harrowing border trek

[This story from The New York Times describes a presence experience with the potential to alter opinions on a timely social issue, addresses some of the challenges of designing experiences in emerging media, and comments on the role of artists in determining the future success of those media (see the last paragraph in particular). The original story includes an additional image. –Matthew]

Iñárritu’s ‘Carne y Arena’ Virtual Reality Simulates a Harrowing Border Trek

By Jason Farago
May 17, 2017

CANNES, France – After weeks in the desert, dehydrated and afraid, refugees and migrants who are apprehended crossing the United States-Mexico border are regularly locked in what are called las hieleras: the freezers. They are meant to be short-term holding cells — they have no beds — but they also exact a kind of extrajudicial punishment. As revealed by a Freedom of Information Act request in 2015, migrants are trapped there for nearly two days on average. Children are separated from their families; detainees are deprived of food. Sometimes their lips split. Sometimes their skin turns blue.

The cold of the hieleras is the first thing you feel in “Carne y Arena” (“Flesh and Sand”), a groundbreaking hybrid of art exhibition, virtual reality simulation and historical re-enactment by the Mexican film director Alejandro G. Iñárritu on view here ahead of its art-world debut in June at the Prada Foundation in Milan. You enter a cold-storage chamber, spare but for a few industrial benches, and are instructed to remove your shoes and socks. Dusty slippers and sneakers, recovered from the border zone, litter the floor. Barefoot, you exit the cold room and enter a larger one, its floor covered with sand. Attendants equip you with an Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset, headphones — and a backpack. The darkness gives way, and you find yourself on the border, and in danger. Read more on VR, art, re-enactment hybrid ‘Carne y Arena’ simulates a harrowing border trek…

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The evolution of presence tech: Inside Google’s slow-mo VR moonshot

[This long piece from Backchannel provides an optimistic but realistic status report on the evolution of presence technologies, including details on Google’s new stand-alone VR headset; the original version of the story includes more images. –Matthew]

Inside Google’s Slow-Mo VR Moonshot

Clay Bavor knows immersive computing is a long-term project. Here’s what he’s doing to make it happen faster.

Steven Levy, Editor of Backchannel
May 17, 2017

No one in Silicon Valley loves virtual reality or believes in its future as much as Clay Bavor. As vice president of VR and AR for Google, he’s a passionate advocate for the technology, with which he has been obsessed since he was a teenager. In Bavor’s three years of involvement with the company’s efforts in artificial realities, he has taken a populist approach, introducing accessible mobile phone-based products such as the dirt-cheap Cardboard viewer and the more recent $79 Daydream viewer.

Today, at Google’s big I/O developer conference, he’s announcing new moves that edge the company away from the VR dollar store—if not quite into the high-rent district. The splashiest of this bunch is an instant-on, standalone headset — think of it as a Daydream viewer with the phone built in, optimized for VR. Google has built a prototype “reference model” of this headset with Qualcomm’s help, and in the coming months Lenovo and HTC VIVE will release sleek commercial versions. The price is expected to fall in the mid-hundreds range—similar to the higher-end VR rigs sold by Oculus and HTC, but without the $1,200 or so supercharged computer that those products require.

Yes, you get what you pay for. The computation in these new devices is more akin to that of the phone than the supercomputer. But Google will announce at an I/O session tomorrow that it has come up with a scheme — codenamed Seurat, after the painter — to produce graphics that look as good as those from much higher-priced systems.

Google has other news: an augmented-reality version of its Expeditions classroom application, and advances in its Tango phone-based navigation system.

But just as significant, and maybe more so, is something that Bavor isn’t introducing in his presentation. It’s… an essay. Bavor plans to publish it the moment he hits the I/O stage to introduce Google’s new advances. Though it reflects his optimism about the field, it deals frankly with a problem that resonates throughout the entire bespoke-reality business: The hype about VR might be driving unrealistic expectations. Read more on The evolution of presence tech: Inside Google’s slow-mo VR moonshot…

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The planetarium as presence-evoking medium

[Planetariums are too often overlooked as a media technology capable of creating several types of presence, including social presence. Our colleague Tom Kwasnitschka makes the case in this story from Nature. For complimentary evidence, see coverage by Creators (including videos) of the recent Obscura Digital presentation ‘Chrysalis,’ the largest projection inside a geodesic dome, at the Coachella Music and Arts Festival. –Matthew]

[Image: Source: Creators]

Planetariums — not just for kids

Planetariums are not just for education, or even astronomy: they could display all sorts of data, if only scientists thought to use them, says Tom Kwasnitschka.

25 April 2017

Most researchers think of planetariums, if they think of them at all, as a place to take schoolchildren for whizzy trips through the stars, with nothing to offer serious scientists. But the truth is quite the contrary.

In March, the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan held a joint workshop with the International Planetarium Society (IPS) in Tokyo. The goal? To visualize the most complex astronomical data sets gathered so far and thus explore ideas about the distribution of galaxies, exoplanets and the make-up of comets. And planetariums can display more than astronomical data. In the past five years, I have been immersed in visualizations of neuronal activity, Hurricane Katrina, particle collisions from the Large Hadron Collider, marine food webs along the US Northwestern Pacific coast, and the magma chamber under the Yellowstone Plateau in Wyoming.

With rich detail and dynamic configurations, these visualizations are often works of art. They inspire both wonder and scientific insight.

Rather than chasing grants for immersive- visualization infrastructure, researchers should use what is already available. With up to 20 high-performance video projectors linked to advanced graphics computers, digital dome planetariums host some of the most sophisticated and flexible systems for scientific visualization. The IPS estimates that there are around 1,300 digital domes in operation globally, each measuring between 3 and 30 metres across, and that one is available within easy reach of most academic facilities. What’s more, busy researchers can rely on planetarium staff to handle most of the underlying logistics.

Dome software can run on any sort of computer, from a laptop to a graphics cluster. It produces seamless, real-time images at a resolution near the limit of what the human eye can discern. A module made to display stars can be easily rewritten to show the global pattern of earthquakes. With a simple Excel spreadsheet of bird-migration routes plotted on a digital globe, I can ‘fly’ to virtual locations and adjust the spreadsheet in real time.

Virtual-reality headsets and other technologies designed for individual viewers have improved markedly, but they lack the communal experience of ‘mixed reality’. My research on deep-ocean volcanoes relies on an inverted dome — imagine a gigantic salad bowl with researchers standing in the middle — that I designed on the basis of experience and contacts from working in planetariums since my teenage days as a guide. When my colleagues and I are immersed in this visual environment, we can really communicate about our data. We see the same things and point them out to each other. We discuss hypotheses face to face as humans, not as avatars. There are no clunky goggles to isolate us and stifle conversation.

I’m not a planetary scientist, but research in the deep ocean is similar to studying Mars: because we cannot go there ourselves, we need elaborate robotics to do our exploration. A huge limitation is our inability to see the sea floor with our own eyes, and to gain the sense of presence that field geologists can work from. The displays we created showed us that ocean-floor surveying had not caught up with our visualization capabilities; this led us to develop deep-sea camera technology to enable photorealistic models of the sea floor. (In fact, as I write this, I am on a boat that’s scanning the floor of the Mediterranean Sea.) Read more on The planetarium as presence-evoking medium…

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Bridging the gender gap with virtual statues: AR and presence for social change

[The Whole Story Project is an example of what could become an important trend, using presence experiences that augment our current reality to advocate for and bring about changes in that reality. The story is from Digital Trends, where it includes a 1:15 minute video. –Matthew]

[Image: Source: AdStasher]

This Pokémon Go-style app lets you find virtual statues of historic women

By Hillary Grigonis – May 3, 2017

Out of the 5,193 historic statues decorating street corners in the United States, only about 7.5 percent depict women, and excluding fictional characters, New York’s Central Park has zero ladies in bronze, or in any other physical material for that matter. But, one company is working to change that — in a virtual world anyway. On Monday, May 1, communications firm Y&R New York announced The Whole Story Project, an augmented reality app aiming to bridge the gender gap with virtual statues in select cities. Think Pokémon Go, but instead of catching Pikachu, you’re viewing Amelia Earhart and Elizabeth Cady Stanton statues guided by a map.

The app allows users to find statues of real women using the smartphone’s camera, augmented reality, and GPS in Central Park, Dante Park in New York City, Washington D.C. and Mount Rushmore, as well as outside the U.S. in London, Prague, Milan, and Rome. Mixing the real scene with computer-generated statues using the smartphone’s camera view, the app allows users to visualize a more diverse set of historical figures in public art, including sharing the images on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Y&R started developing the app in support of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal a year ago. The first virtual statue was placed last month in Dante Park before the Women of the World Summit, while Y&R and Girl Scout Troop 3484 added several in Central Park, including Amelia Earhart, Nina Simone, Edith Wharton, Shirley Chisholm, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Read more on Bridging the gender gap with virtual statues: AR and presence for social change…

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Rape survivors’ stories told through virtual reality in new documentary

[This story from ThinkProgress describes the origins and potential impacts of a VR documentary on a very serious topic, along with some of the design decisions used to shape the presence experiences of the viewer. For a first person report on the experience see coverage in Engadget, and for a report on other virtual and mixed reality experiences from Tribeca Immersive at the recent Tribeca Film Festival see coverage in CNET. –Matthew]

[Image: Source: Engadget]

Rape survivors’ stories told through virtual reality in new documentary

Rape survivors, up close and personal.

Jessica Goldstein, Culture Editor at ThinkProgress
May 4, 2017

When Lucy was raped in 2003, about a week before her 19th birthday during her freshman year at the University of Michigan, she didn’t know exactly how to talk about it. Her roommates agreed that it was “rude” of the guy in question — a student-athlete who carried an incapacitated Lucy back to his dorm after a party — to not only have sex with her but to then leave his door open, talk to some friends, and eat a slice of pizza, all while Lucy, undressed from the waist down, regained consciousness on his bed.

But despite what Lucy knew was physical evidence to the contrary, the doctor at the student health center scribbled down that the encounter “wasn’t abuse.”

Lucy grew up in Michigan. She knew what happened to girls who accused male athletes of sexual assault. Crushed by the shame she felt from the conclusion from her doctor and hoping to move on with her life, she made “a conscious decision” to never speak about her rape again. “If I don’t talk about it, it’s like it never happened.”

Lucy is one of five sexual assault survivors (four female, one male) in Testimony, a virtual reality documentary by director and media artist Zohar Kfir that premiered at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. The project is an inversion of what used to be Lucy’s mantra. If it’s true that not talking about something can make it seem like that something never happened, then the alternative — not just talking about it, but talking publicly, on film, for audiences everywhere — is insisting that, in spite of everything, it did happen, and no one can undo what was done.

“I’m a survivor myself.”

Testimony is a project I always wanted to create,” Kfir said by phone. “I’m a survivor myself. I always wanted to do something with the testimony of sexual abuse survivors, but I was scared at the same time. Then I realized VR would be the best medium for that. Using VR is kind of a commitment for people to watch the content — because when you put the headset you’re kind of blind [to the rest of the world]. You give your full attention to the content.”

With VR, a viewer becomes more of a participant; you’re completely immersed in the world of what you’re watching. “I wanted to confront people with those testimonies,” Kfir said. “Everybody talks about VR as a tool for empathy: the empathy machine.” You wind up “being close to those people, and not being afraid to keep on listening.” Read more on Rape survivors’ stories told through virtual reality in new documentary…

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Virtual support groups help grieving spouses with depression

[As this story from UA News notes, we’ll want future comparisons including with in-person sessions, but these results highlight the value of presence in a deeply emotional context. This sentence stands out: “In follow-up assessments, participants in the virtual reality group said they felt as if they were in a real room during the sessions, with real people who were going through similar experiences.” The original story includes three more images. –Matthew]

Virtual Support Groups Help Grieving Spouses With Depression

For older adults who can’t travel to attend a traditional grief support group, a virtual version may be the next best thing.

Alexis Blue, University Communications
May 10, 2017

As the U.S. population ages, it’s estimated that half of women older than 65 are widows, while one-sixth of men of the same age have lost their spouses.

Support groups have proved to be a helpful resource for those dealing with grief, but for older individuals, obstacles such as geographic location and physical immobility can sometimes make it difficult to attend support groups in person.

An effective option for older adults, according to new University of Arizona research, might be an online virtual reality support group that allows widows and widowers to interact in real time with mental health professionals and other bereaved people, via a computer-generated avatar. The findings will be published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.

Lindsey Knowles, a graduate student in clinical psychology at the UA, set out with her colleagues to test the effectiveness and acceptability of two web-based support resources for older adults who have lost a spouse.

In a study of 30 widows and widowers older than 50, some were assigned to be part of a virtual reality support group twice a week, while others instead were instructed to do once-weekly readings from a grief education website. The same topics — including physical health, mental well-being, sleep, dating and parenting, among others — were addressed in both the interactive virtual group and the static online readings.

In follow-up assessments at the end of the eight-week study period and two months later, researchers found that participants in both groups showed improvements in stress, loneliness and sleep quality, but only participants in the virtual reality group showed self-reported improvement in symptoms of depression.

Researchers think the social support provided by the group, along with its interactive nature, helped with depression. Read more on Virtual support groups help grieving spouses with depression…

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This pulsating ‘haptic skin’ is somewhat creepy, mostly awesome

[Omnipulse is another effort to not only add the sense of touch but increase the ‘haptic resolution’ of presence experiences; this story is from Road to VR, where it includes two short videos. –Matthew]

This Pulsating ‘Haptic Skin’ is Somewhat Creepy, Mostly Awesome

By Ben Lang
May 9, 2017

Omnipulse is a new haptic technology out of Cornell’s Organic Robotics Lab which uses an array of embedded pneumatic actuators to create haptic feedback which feels quite ‘organic’ compared to the more ‘mechanical’ of many other haptic technologies out there. With the ability to form the flexible Omnipulse skin into arbitrary shapes, the technology could be integrated into VR controllers, gloves, or potentially even haptic VR suits. Read more on This pulsating ‘haptic skin’ is somewhat creepy, mostly awesome…

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