The SLENZ Update – No 83, May 16, 2009

COULD YOU BECOME YOUR AVATAR?

So you want an ‘out-of-body’ experience in Second Life…

Video of an early experiment in virtual out-of-body research.

You might  just be able to become your avatar, or at least  have the illusion that you are, in the not too distant future. It’s all a question of  “presence”. an issue which is hotly debated by educators  in Second  Life and other virtual worlds and which is seen as the key to virtual  world learning success, when compared with other on-line technologies.

A group of  neuroscientists has found that research subjects fitted with goggles that stream video from cameras strapped to another person (or mannequin) can experience that body as their own, not just in a fluffy, philosophical way but with measurable physiological changes, according  to  a report in the open-access journal Public Library of Science One

The paper’s authors, Valeria I. Petkova and H. Henrik Ehrsson of the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm  – although they were not the first to do this  sort of research – argued that their work could prove important for future human-robot collaborations — and give hope to those dreaming of uploading their brains after Ray Kurzweil’s forecast Singularity.

“The present findings could have groundbreaking industrial and clinical applications” the neuroscientists  were quoted by  Wired Science late last year as saying. “Experiencing ‘becoming’ a humanoid robot in tele-robotics and feeling ownership of simulated bodies in virtual reality applications would probably enhance user control, realism, and the feeling of ‘presence,’” they added.

The gaming industry,  already taking steps down that road with Mirror’s Edge, which lets players see other parts of their virtual body in motion producing a sensation real enough to induce carsickness, the creation of  the soon-to-be-marketed  mind-reading  headsets – they do have some drawbacks – and the on-going Indian sub-continent development of holographic mobile handsets capable of projecting, capturing and sending 3D images and thus giving one peripheral vision, as it were. The last are expected to be on the market  next year.WillowShenlin

According to  Wired Science, while the research might be biological, the ability to make headway on this centuries-old problem is technological. The development of light-weight head-mounted displays that are capable of displaying real-time video is the key advance in creating this curious body-swapping illusion. The research follows a slate of publications by the same Swedish group and another European team on generating out-of-body experiences using video and virtual reality tools.

“These experiments have demonstrated how remarkably easy it is to ‘move’ a human centre of awareness from one body to another,” they write. “This speaks directly to the classical question of the relationship between human consciousness and the body, which has been discussed by philosophers, psychologists, and theologians for centuries.”
I was pointed to the Wired Science article by SLED lister, Cathy Anderson,  but it was lister and Second Life “presence” guru Sabine Reljic (SL: Willow Shenlin – pictured left) who pointed me again to the 2007 video above and another demonstrating the possibility of the out-of-body experience and of becoming one with your avatar, as well as to the results of  earlier experimentation.

Interestingly Reljic has looked at the  few mobile headsets, currently on the market but found most are “quite disappointing”.

“In some cases, putting the headset on was enough to (make me) realise that the “immersion” was not going to happen – (side vision not taken into consideration, etc,” she said.

Creator of the Rezed group Social Presence in Virtual Worlds,  Reljic, from North Carolina,  is doing  doctoral research focused on social presence as a variable of a successful Second Life  educational experience.

One Response

  1. […] achievement builds on previous work, reported previously in the SLENZ Update,  in which Swiss neuroscientists created similar to out-of-body experiences in healthy volunteers […]

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