The machine that lets you become another
If you could be anybody in the world, who would you want to be? Even if it is seemingly impossible to execute, it is actually possible. As the BBC has reported, thanks to an unusual virtual reality device, a few people have experienced how it would be like to be another person.
“The first seconds are just overwhelming,” says Rikke Frances Wahl, a woman who temporarily became a man. “It feels weird. You start to feel more and more comfortable in it, and you start to really get the fantasy of how it would be if it were your body.”
This project, which was developed by a group of artists based in Barcelona, has created a machine called “The Machine to be Another.”
The set-up of the machine is relatively simple. Both users don an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset with a camera on the top of their head, before the video from each camera is transported to the other person, so what one person sees is the direct view of his or her partner. If she moves her leg, he sees it. If he moves his leg, she sees it.
Eventually, participants really start to feel as if they are living in another person’s body. “It was so natural,” Wahl says, laughing. “And at the same time, it was so unnatural.”
Studies have shown that the machine will help people put themselves in another’s shoes because the brain has internalized the feeling of being that person. It also creates empathy between people. But aside from empathy, the “Be Another Lab” has used the technology in other situations which have a positive effect.
A group of artists would like to offer the machine to doctors to help people with eating disorders.
“We all have different feelings and points of views about things,” said Arthur Pointeau, a programmer with the project. “And it’s really strongly related to our bodily experience. With this kind of experience, we can promote empathy, but also maybe help people better understand themselves, too.”