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Issue A: Exploring the Body Through Technology

Embodiment and Technology – Exploring the Body Through Technology

by Joshua Artus

 

From gaming controllers in the late ’90s that vibrated, to arcade games in which you spun around 360° emulating a jet fighter, companies have always tried to cater to the desire to embody an ‘out-of-body’ experience. Recently, advances in tech are bringing that experience a step closer, with some claiming giant leaps.

Embodiment in technology represents advancements in multiple fields, and raises a number of questions. Can it provide transcendence in gaming? How can it change the way we view a digital world? And perhaps most importantly – what can it mean in respect to health?

Exploring these questions, we have unearthed four articles from professionals exploring this subject.

Apurva Shah, who for over 20 years has been a VFX & CGI designer for Pixar and Dreamworks along with running his own company, writes about how small changes in body perception, such as limbs and gender, change the embodiment experience dependent on what the overall agenda is – empathy/war.

‘Having a physical body can be very effective in experiences that seek to invoke empathy or sense of play and freedom that comes from assuming an avatar.’

In a more existential write-up of how we look at the role of embodiment in technology, we have to further our language around artificial intelligence, and the code that is built around it to learn and mimic. There are some fascinating insights into studying the biology of a bee’s visual system in order to understand how we can develop more effective simulated visual experiences. A key line from the article: ‘Pfeifer and Hoffman say that various low-level cognitive functions such as locomotion are clearly simple forms of computation involving the brain-body-environment triumvirate. That’s why our definition of computation needs to be extended to include the influence of environment, they say.’

Beyond gaming and existentialism, we hit more pressing issues – healthcare.

A company I had the pleasure of seeing demo their tech live was the Pretender Project. It’s based on mimicry on a peer to peer level. ‘The Oculus Rift headset’s low-latency head tracking creates a realistic sense of movement with the user’s field of vision and the electrical muscle stimulators create a natural reflex sensation. Together, these two systems create seamless interaction between the user and controller. The Pretender Project adds a new layer of immersive haptic feedback previously non-existent in  virtual reality experiences. The concept is inspired by the Proteus Effect, a psychological phenomenon that morphs real behaviour with the actions of an avatar. The Pretender Project explores what it means to control and to be controlled. As individuals step into the body of another person, they experience real social interactions and have the opportunity to assume the physical behaviours – and in the long term even personalities – of someone else without physical restrictions.’

A company slightly more advanced in their technology is ReWalk, who are planning to bring their exoskeleton to market in 2018, pending an FDA approval in the USA. It’s based on the notion that although a person may have suffered a stroke and they have difficulty lifting a leg, in theory they have no problem moving it forward. This smart system learns where the natural failures exist and looks to assist. Naturally this embodiment works two ways, and much like the potential of the Pretender Project, is focused on keeping the cognitive neurological and mechanical aspects of our body working. As much of our body is networked and interconnected, we have been ‘built’ to operate in tandem at a certain level, therefore when one system goes down, others will follow suit. Exoskeletons and neurological-muscle reaction technologies offer a way to keep nerve and muscular stimulation alive and well in the face of adversity. ‘If you had a stroke, and you were lying in a hospital bed for 10 days, theoretically you could lose 10% to 20% of your muscle mass,’ ReWalk CEO Jasinski said. If you could use this in recovery, the hope is you’d have a much better chance at regaining your mobility in full.

 

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The above piece was written by Joshua Artus, a member here at our workspace THECUBE London. He and his colleagues from The Centric Lab joined our coworking space because they wanted an office space which combines science and technology – just as their own company does too. If you are currently looking for a workspace too, just drop us an email at hi@thecubelondon.com