On February 6 of this year, the VR image of a seven-year-old girl named Nayeon was shown to have been created by the Korean company VIVE STUDIOS. The tech company used state of the art photogrammetry, special voice emulation technology, motion capture, voice and touch recognition, as well as an array of other incredible VFX to create a virtual human. Nayeon’s little sister was used as the model the simulacrum was built on due to her distinct resemblance to Nayeon. What makes this particular virtual human unique is the fact that the child was sadly deceased before the simulacrum was created.
A controversial project
The Korean broadcasting corporation MBC aired a documentary called Special VR Human Documentary – I Met You The documentary focuses on a mother (Ji-sung) being given a chance to spend one final afternoon with her daughter (Nayeon) who was tragically lost to illness in 2016.
The simulacrum of the daughter was created with voices and facial recognition and programmed to respond to the mother’s virtual touch. They spent some time together talking and saying their goodbyes. The event was emotional not just for Ji-sung but also for her family and the crew who watched as Ji-sung walked around the green room in a special VR headset and gloves with a display of the event being played out on screens in the studio.
The event was meant to be a one time experience to allow the mother closure as well as display the advanced VR tech being used. The team was optimistic about the use of the technology, stating a belief in an ability for it to aid in psychological healing and representing prominent historical figures.
What are the potential benefits and ramifications of this particular type of virtual reality technology and how it can be applied to everyday life? I worked as a volunteer grief counselor for several years after college. The concept that stuck with me the most from those experiences is bargaining. I have seen people fall to the floor and offer to trade their very lives for a single moment with a lost loved one.
This brings us to a serious question. What if we could make a similar bargain? I am in no way suggesting the company that built this technology intends to extort people’s grief for financial gain. I believe this technology has a great deal of potential. I’m simply pointing out the possibility of a market for an on-demand simulacrum of lost loved ones and the chance of that interfering with the grieving process.
I will not entertain an example of this kind of transaction, we’ve all seen a movie or read a book where someone became addicted to some virtual reality. So long as we apply this type of virtual therapy in a clinical setting with rigorous oversight, I see no issue with what happened at MBC. However, I cannot attest to the quality or the quantity of medical staff on hand.
Approaching the future
As we continued our approach toward hyperreality and a seamless future, these types of technology will become more and more common. With the expansion of VR tech, we are certain to see more of the potential power of photogrammetry, holography, hepatic- feedback, simulacra, and fully immersive virtual reality.
Today’s Beat Saber could be tomorrow’s fully integrated VR physical therapy. Companies such as Cynteract are already working on that. It will be up to every one of us to be the moderators of our future in the case of Ji-sung. I hope she found peace in the experience and is on a path to healing.
YouTube: [VR Human Documentary] Mother meets her deceased daughter through VR technology
Story pitched by news scout Pupu Liang.
Thanks for that!
Photo credit: All images used are provided by MBC as part of their press resources and are owned by them.
Source: Video production as embedded above and the MBC documentary content as well as press releases 1, 2, 3, and 4.