There is considerable enthusiasm for technologies that allow people to simulate an engagement with a physical world. It’s said that Virtual Reality will transform education, therapy, marketing, fitness, video games, and, of course, porn.
And some believe it’ll make us better people. As Chris Milk puts it in his TED talk, VR is “the ultimate empathy machine.” Perhaps it can be utilized to make us care about—and help—groups such as refugees, the homeless, and those with physical and mental impairments.
In a recent New York City fundraiser by the International Rescue Committee, people lined up to use headsets that let them experience the physical environment of a refugee camp in Lebanon. NPR quotes the executive producer of the IRC: “We can’t bring donors or people to the field, but we bring the field to [them.] That’s what’s so great about VR; that’s what makes it, I think, such an important tool for charities.”
Another exhibit in Washington, set up by Médecins Sans Frontières, took a lower-tech approach. They had participants climb onto rafts (on dry land) and go through a series of ordeals, having to give up their possession one by one until they ended up, empty-handed, in front of faux refugee camps.
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