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Monday, 10 February 2020

A bereaved mother finds her deceased child in Virtual Reality (+ VIDEO)


Jang Ji-sung lost his daughter when she was only seven years old. It was in 2016 that everything changed for her, when her little Nayeon died of an incurable disease. Three years later, the bereaved South Korean mother was able to find her daughter in some way, in a virtual world created for a television documentary.



Last Thursday, the Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation shared on its YouTube channel an extract from a special documentary entitled "I Met You", showing a moving sequence linking the real world to the virtual.

In the first scene, Jang stands in front of a large green screen with a VR headset and haptic gloves. In the second scene, we can see the young mother chatting with her daughter. They hold hands and even plan a birthday party.



The VR meeting is, as you can imagine, extremely moving. Jang begins to cry as soon as she sees the virtual version of her daughter Nayeon, while the rest of the family - Nayeon's father, brother and sister - witness the reunion between dark emotions and occasional tears.

"It may be a real paradise," said Jang of his RV reunion. “I met Nayeon, who called me with a smile. It was very short, but very joyful. I think I had the waking dream that I always wanted.”


Eight months of development

According to Aju Business Daily , the production team spent eight months on the project. The developers designed the virtual park after a real place that Jang had gone with his daughter. They then used motion capture technology to record the movements of a child actor, which they could then use as a model for the virtual Nayeon.

The process may not be simple and the end product may not be perfect, but it has resulted in technology that can recreate real people in VR, convincingly enough to move their relatives. And the implications are simply impossible to predict.

It took a whole team of experts to produce "I Met You", but we're clearly getting closer to a platform that one day would allow anyone to easily download images of a deceased loved one and interact then with a virtual version of it.

What impact will this technology have on the grieving process? Will being able to meet a loved one in VR help loved ones to pass the course and move forward after a death? Will some people become addicted to this virtual world?

Besides, with the evolution of robotics, we could also imagine that such applications could one day extend to humanoid robots. So is this a first step towards androids designed to imitate our deceased loved ones both in appearance and in personality, as in the episode of the Black Mirror series “Be Right Back”?

Several startups have already prepared the ground for this future, in particular by compiling data on living and deceased people in order to produce real “digital avatars”. Other companies are already producing robot clones of real people .

The Black Mirror episode “Be Right Back”:


A therapeutic framework?

Nevertheless, it is obvious that the reunion in VR could constitute positive experiences. We could also see this as a 21st century version of a photo album.

"Since you know the person is gone, you accept the virtual equivalent for what they are - a 'comforting remnant'," Princeton neuroscientist Michael Graziano told Dell Technology. "There is nothing wrong or unethical."



However, perhaps regulation would be necessary. Rather than allowing startups to freely offer the public the opportunity to interact with virtual versions of their deceased loved ones, perhaps we could make the technology available only to people who have undergone an assessment with a psychologist, for example.

Interacting with a convincing version of the deceased in virtual reality is unexplored territory, and now that we have officially entered this era, many questions arise. We will therefore have to respond as quickly as possible in order to best introduce this technology.

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