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Category Archives: Presence in the News

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

Friendly nurse or nightmare-inducing machine? How culture programs our taste in robots.

[This Washington Post story uses vivid examples to highlight cultural differences in how people experience medium-as-social-actor presence with robots that provide different sets of social cues. See the original story for two short videos. –Matthew]

[Image: Robots wearing nurse uniforms carry medical documents Wednesday at Mongkutwattana General Hospital in Bangkok. Credit: Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters).]

Friendly nurse or nightmare-inducing machine? How culture programs our taste in robots.

This is Thailand’s idea of an attractive robot. Americans might be terrified.

By Peter Holley
February 7, 2019

Slowly and silently, they glide across the floor wearing bright yellow dresses that look as though they were plucked from a haunted 1920s boarding school.

Beneath shoulder-length brown wigs, two blazing red eyes — each one massive and ghoulish — glare from behind a darkened pane of transparent plastic like a demonic predator lurking in the dark.

No, you haven’t encountered some Mothman-like terror entombed inside a department store mannequin, the byproduct of a twisted, futuristic fever dream. You’ve merely stepped inside Mongkutwattana General Hospital in Bangkok, where a team of robot nurses has been unleashed to make life easier.

Their job: ferrying documents between eight stations inside the health-care facility, a job that used to be carried out busy human nurses, hospital director Reintong Nanna told Newsflare last year.

“These robotic nurses help to improve the efficiency and performance of working in the hospital,” he said. “They are not being used to reduce the number of employees.”

The trio of unsmiling machines — which can be programmed to speak both Thai and English — have been named Nan, Nee and Nim, according to the news outlet. Nanna said they move by following a magnetic strip that winds across the hospital floor, and can travel several miles each day.

Because they reduce human error, he added, the hospital plans to increase their workload to include moving equipment and preparing drug dosages.

Humanoid robots are taking a more active role in caring for the sick and elderly in Asia, but don’t expect to see similar machines roaming the halls of U.S. hospitals any time soon. That’s because robot design is often culture-specific, with some countries excitedly deploying machines that would probably terrify sickly patients in other countries, according to Cory Kidd, founder and CEO of Catalia Health, which has designed its own smiling, doe-eyed “personal healthcare robot” named “Mabu.”

His reaction to the glowing red eyes currently staring down Thai patients: “They’re creepy.”

“Robot aesthetics are culturally dependent,” he said, noting that the Thai hospital bots were designed in China. “If we had these nurses in a U.S. hospital, that would not work. They wouldn’t survive a day. But they might be received completely differently in Thai hospitals.”

Online surveys have revealed contrasts in how robots are perceived by country as well. While both Europeans and Japanese respondents agree that robots should be used to assist with difficult and repetitive tasks, the nature of acceptable tasks — and the degree of intimacy involved — differs widely, according to a team of international researchers. Read more on Friendly nurse or nightmare-inducing machine? How culture programs our taste in robots….

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Vicarious Surgical combines VR and miniature robots to put surgeons inside patient’s body

[The startup company described in this TechCrunch story is working to combine the interactive immersion of virtual reality with miniature robots that can move within a human body, providing surgeons with an expanded version of remote “presence in the body” that has great potential for improving medical care. See the original story for an additional image. –Matthew]

Bill Gates-backed Vicarious Surgical adds a virtual reality twist to robots in the operating room

Jonathan Shieber
February 13, 2019

In an operating room in rural Idaho, doctors prep a patient for surgery. They make a tiny, thumb-sized incision into the patient and insert a small robot while across the country a surgeon puts on a virtual reality headset, grabs their controllers and prepares to operate.

While this scene may seem like science fiction now, a Charlestown, Mass.-based startup called Vicarious Surgical is developing the technology to make that vision a reality.

The company’s co-founders, Adam Sachs and Sammy Khalifa, have been developing and refining the technology almost since they met at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as undergraduates.

The 27-year-old Sachs said that he and Khalifa formally launched the company roughly five years ago when they graduated from MIT, and have been working on it ever since.

“We’ve been working on ways to miniaturize robotics and put all of the motion of surgery into the abdominal cavity,” says Sachs. “If you put all of the motion inside the abdominal cavity you are not confined to motion around the incision sites.”

What really set the founders’ brains buzzing was the potential for combining their miniature robots with the ability to see inside the body using virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Rift.

“It wasn’t a ‘Eureka!’ moment, but more like two-or-three weeks as the vision came together,” says Sachs. “We can make robotics more human-like and virtual reality would give you that presence in the body.” Read more on Vicarious Surgical combines VR and miniature robots to put surgeons inside patient’s body…

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Presence after death: New TV show to deliver hologram messages from the dead

[The UK’s Channel 4 will air a program featuring the use of holograms to create the illusion of presence after death, as reported in this story from The Scotsman. Other coverage notes a comparison to the anthology series Black Mirror and the fact that “the series is based on the A+E Networks format Voices From the Grave that is in development for A&E by Simon Andreae’s Naked TV” (Deadline Hollywood). For commentary about the new show see The Telegraph (subscription required). –Matthew]

[Image: Credit: A+E Networks via Deadline Hollywood]

New Channel 4 show to deliver hologram messages from the dead

30 January 2019

A new TV show will deliver messages from terminally-ill people to their loved ones via their own hologram after they have died.

Channel 4 has announced Ghost (working title), which it describes as “a profoundly moving, revelatory and ultimately uplifting television first”.

Six terminally-ill people will “create incredible experiences to comfort the loved ones they are leaving behind, which will be delivered after their death”.

The contributors, of varied ages, will write and record messages for their closest relatives and loved ones.

“Using cutting-edge holographic technology”, the “deeply personal missives” will be “delivered post-mortem, by the subjects themselves in vivid, three-dimensional, holographic form, allowing them to appear as if from beyond the grave”. Read more on Presence after death: New TV show to deliver hologram messages from the dead…

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KLM launches ‘live hologram bars’ to connect travelling strangers in airports

[Here’s a clever idea for evoking social presence among travelling strangers; the story is from Standby Nordic; follow the link at the end for a 1:11 minute video. –Matthew]

KLM ‘hologram bars’ launch in Nordics

Read more on KLM launches ‘live hologram bars’ to connect travelling strangers in airports…

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Robot on the trolley car track: How valuable is robot life?

[Experts in medium-as-social-actor presence likely will find the results of the study reported in this story from Interesting Engineering interesting if not surprising. For more information including three videos see the press release via EurekAlert! –Matthew]

[Image: Pepper. Credit: Pixabay]

Robot on the Trolley Car Track: How Valuable is Robot Life?

A new study asks how much value do we put on robot life and leads to some surprising conclusions.

By John Loeffler
February, 09th 2019

Two professors of psychology reveal an interesting take of the classic trolley problem: would you sacrifice a robot to save a human life? The answer might surprise you. Read more on Robot on the trolley car track: How valuable is robot life?…

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Can a virtual reality video help fight anti-HIV stigma?

[Early research suggests that VR and presence can contribute to the success of a campaign to promote HIV awareness and testing. This short story is from Open Society Foundations, where the original includes the trailer for “Live Life Positively” (also available via YouTube). For more information see the Open Society Foundations and UNAIDS websites. –Matthew]

Can a Virtual Reality Video Help Fight Anti-HIV Stigma?

February 7, 2019
Sydelle Willow Smith, a cofounder of Sunshine Cinema and a partner at Makhulu Media

A young woman enters the crowded waiting room of a clinic and takes a seat. Soon, she is beckoned into an office by a health care worker who administers an HIV test. “I’ll call you for the results,” says the nurse. As the young woman waits, we are right there with her, sharing in her anxiety. And when she learns that she is HIV-positive, we are with her still.

Could the experience of being alongside someone as they go through the process of getting tested for HIV encourage more young people to get tested themselves? That’s what we hope to learn with 360HIV, a series of virtual reality (VR) films which aim to demystify HIV testing by using VR glasses to give viewers a close look at the process.

Eastern and southern Africa struggle with some of the highest rates of HIV in the world. Many young people in these regions don’t know their status: according to a 2016 release from UNAIDS, only 29 percent of girls and 20 percent of boys between the ages of 15 and 19 have ever received their HIV test results.

While the first film, Walking Through the Doors, follows Lihle Bhebhe as she reenacts her experience of receiving a positive diagnosis and attending a peer support group, the second film, These Children Today, features actual clinic staff and is intended for nurses. It shows clinic staff acting out different scenarios and depicting how positive and negative behaviors can deter youth from learning their status.

We showed the films to youth and healthcare workers, most of whom had never watched a VR film before. They marveled at how they felt they were “part of the story,” and an overwhelming majority of the young viewers—over 94 percent—said they were more likely to test for HIV after seeing the film. Meanwhile, around 90 percent reported that the video made them want to learn more about HIV treatment.

Likewise, clinic staff and health care workers who viewed the film said afterwards that they would be more likely to intervene if they saw a colleague acting unprofessionally. Indeed, although many of the clinic staff and health care workers said they were made uncomfortable by scenes in which nurses ignore Lihle and fail to respect her privacy, they admitted that this was because they’ve observed such behavior before—not because they found it unrealistic.

“You feel like you are there,” one viewer said of the experience. “It’s like they see you.” By seemingly placing the viewer in the room, in a way no normal film could, the VR experience also managed to hold the viewers’ attention. “If it was a normal video,” said another viewer, “I probably would have just changed channels.” In an era of instant gratification, when “watch time” is one of the most valuable resources there is, this is no small feat. Read more on Can a virtual reality video help fight anti-HIV stigma?…

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Genentech uses VR, presence to train eye surgeons

[Virtual reality and the sense of presence it evokes is used for a growing set of training applications including in health care; for anyone who has to get regular eye injections and/or knows people who do, this Wall Street Journal story about the use of VR to train surgeons to implant a new small device in the eye that replaces the injections is particularly interesting. –Matthew]

[Image: Genentech is training eye surgeons on a procedure treating an eye disease that affects more than 1 million Americans. Credit: Genetech.]

Genentech Uses Virtual Reality to Train Eye Surgeons

Adopts technology in clinical trial for eye-implant procedure

By Sara Castellanos
February. 6, 2019

Genentech, a division of Roche Holding AG, is using virtual reality as a training tool for eye surgeons in a clinical trial that executives expect will be the beginning of widespread use of the technology.

Over the past year, more than 150 surgeons have used VR to simulate a surgical procedure treating wet age-related macular degeneration, an eye disease that affects more than 1 million people age 50 and older in the U.S.

The surgery requires the implant in the eye of a device, roughly the size of a grain of rice, that continuously releases a drug for the treatment of the disease.

If the device in the clinical trial is approved by the Food and Drug Administration in a few years, Genentech expects to train the more than 2,200 retinal specialists in the U.S. Virtual reality will be a major component of that training in order for them to master the procedure, the company said.

“Historically, surgeons had to learn on patients. What we’re trying to do here is see all the possible permutations that can occur, in virtual reality, so that when [the surgeons] are actually doing this on a patient, they’re ready,” said Anthony Adamis, senior vice president of development innovation for Genentech. Read more on Genentech uses VR, presence to train eye surgeons…

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Your body is driving a new wave of AR, VR experiences

[This story from CNET describes new and intriguing efforts to use the body to control interactions in mediated experiences and thereby increase presence. See the original for videos and more images. –Matthew]

Your body is driving a new wave of AR, VR experiences

Artists at Sundance are tapping into your own movements to make immersive experiences feel more natural.

by Joan E. Solsman
February 4, 2019

Inside the softly glowing room, I pace around a table with an iPhone to reveal an augmented-reality mystery. Digital characters on my screen drop breadcrumbs for me to follow back to the scene of a murder. As I trace their trail of clues, my movements make everything around me change — the lights, the scenes, the sounds I hear in my ears.

The use of movement and location to direct the flow of the story is one of the key elements of The Dial, the brainchild of Peter Flaherty. While he wanted to incorporate augmented reality, which overlays digital media on top of the real world, and projection mapping, which shrink-wraps video onto physical objects, the most important technology for telling his story is one we’re already constantly using: our own bodies.

“The more your body’s engaged in any interactive or immersive form, the more meaningful it is,” Flaherty said in an interview at the Sundance Film Festival on the night before the fest opened late last month. “Those choose-your-own-adventures — where you choose A or B, pathway one or two — for me is never that exciting. But if you’re actually kinesthetically moving your body, you’re engaged.”

At the festival’s New Frontier showcase of tech-heavy immersive projects, pieces like The Dial are using participants’ bodies as the primary mechanism for how they work. Instead of bathing you in passive immersion or forcing fiddly game controllers into your hands, creators are nesting unfamiliar tech with an instrument — your body — that’s as familiar as the back of your hand. Literally.

Their hope is to make projects utilizing augmented and virtual reality — once hot tech trends still struggling to find their way to consumers — more engrossing. VR and AR could use all the help they can get to actually fulfill their promise of offering us radically different and immersive experiences. The trend could, at the same time, restore some of the connection we’ve lost to our physical selves that tech has cleaved away.

“It’s a critical moment culturally with the advent of spatial computing and the advent of also machine learning, for us … to put the body back at the center of the potential relationship of technology and humans,” said Melissa Painter, another creator whose project, Embody, is featured at Sundance. “Flat out, people’s physical relationship to their own body has somehow been stripped out of the equation.” Read more on Your body is driving a new wave of AR, VR experiences…

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Digisexuals: Do you take this robot …

[Here is a provocative recent report on a subset of medium-as-social-actor (MASA) presence phenomena; it’s from The New York Times, where the original version includes four more images and a video. –Matthew]

[Image: Photo Illustration by Tracy Ma/The New York Times; Getty Images (hand)]

Do You Take This Robot …

Today we fall in love through our phones. Maybe your phone itself could be just as satisfying?

By Alex Williams
January. 19, 2019

When Akihiko Kondo, a 35-year-old school administrator in Tokyo, strolled down the aisle in a white tuxedo in November, his mother was not among the 40 well-wishers in attendance. For her, he said, “it was not something to celebrate.“

You might see why. The bride, a songstress with aquamarine twin tails named Hatsune Miku, is not only a world-famous recording artist who fills up arenas throughout Japan: She is also a hologram.

Mr. Kondo insists the wedding was not a stunt, but a triumph of true love after years of feeling ostracized by real-life women for being an anime otaku, or geek. He considers himself a sexual minority facing discrimination.

“It’s simply not right,” he told the The Japan Times. “It’s as if you were trying to talk a gay man into dating a woman, or a lesbian into a relationship with a man.”

We live in an era when rapid advances in robotics and artificial intelligence are colliding with an expanding conception of sexual identity. This comes quickly on the heels of growing worldwide acceptance of gay, trans and bisexual people.

Now you may describe yourself as polyamorous or demisexual — that last one is people who only feel sexual attraction in close emotional relationships. Perhaps you best identify as aromantic (that’s people who don’t feel romance) or skoliosexual (that’s a primary attraction to people of no, or multiple, or complex genders).

Self-identification is not the same as identity, and some classes of description now may be closer to metaphor. But the idea that flesh-and-blood humans may actually forge fulfilling emotional, or even sexual, relationships with digital devices is no longer confined to dystopian science fiction movies like “Ex Machina” and “Her,” stories in which lonely techies fall too hard for software-driven femme fatales.

In real life, pioneers of human-android romance now have a name, “digisexuals,” which some academics and futurists have suggested constitutes an emergent sexual identity.

Whether the notion is absurd, inevitable or offensive, it raises more than a few questions. For starters, in a world where sex toys that respond and give feedback and artificial-intelligence-powered sex robots are inching toward the mainstream, are digisexuals a fringe group, destined to remain buried in the sexual underground? Or, in a culture permeated with online pornography, sexting and Tinder swiping, isn’t everyone a closet digisexual? Read more on Digisexuals: Do you take this robot ……

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‘Hamlet’ in virtual reality casts the viewer in the play

[A new production of Hamlet offered the producers and actors new challenges and provides viewers with new presence experiences, as reported in this story from The New York Times. See the original for four more images. –Matthew]

[Image: From left, Jack Cutmore-Scott, Brooke Adams and Jay O. Sanders in “Hamlet 360: Thy Father’s Spirit,” a virtual reality film produced by Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, Google, Graham Sack and Quentin Little. Credi: Sensorium]

‘Hamlet’ in Virtual Reality Casts the Viewer in the Play

By Elizabeth A. Harris; Michael Paulson contributed reporting.
January. 25, 2019

Hamlet is in a bathtub with water up to his neck delivering “To be, or not to be.” Look to your right and you’ll see his mother, Gertrude, in her bedroom putting on makeup. Look in the distance, and you’ll see Laertes, practicing with his sword.

And if you look to your left, you will see your own reflection in a gilded mirror. You will appear haggard, bloody, ferocious and, in fact, dead. Because in this virtual reality version of Shakespeare, you are the ghost of Hamlet’s murdered father.

That version, “Hamlet 360: Thy Father’s Spirit,” is a joint production of two very different outfits: Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, which is known for staging free Shakespeare on Boston Common, and the tech giant Google. Its creators hope that beyond the fresh experience it provides, it will also serve as a tool to bring great theater to wider audiences — and bring bigger audiences to theater. Read more on ‘Hamlet’ in virtual reality casts the viewer in the play…

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