The Machine to Be Another
THE MACHINE TO BE ANOTHER is an Open Source Art investigation on the relation of Identity and Empathy that has been developed by low budget experiments of Embodiment and Virtual Body Extension.
Designed as an interactive performance installation, the ‘Machine’ offers users the possibility of interacting with a piece of another person’s life story by seeing themselves in the body of this person and listening to his/her thoughts inside their mind.
The performer is someone interested in sharing a story about his/her existence. This role can be assumed by an actor interpreting a real situation, or instead, it may be taken by any person (e.g. from the public) who is interested in sharing some episode about his or her life. In any case, the stories that are told by the performer will be experienced by another person, say the user.
The project is currently developed by BeAnotherLab and is looking to understand empathy, identity, body agency, and subjectiveness from an interdisciplinary perspective.
Year(s): since 2017
Target group(s): Migrants and citizens of the hosting communities
Using technology to promote empathy and understanding between people from different origins and social extractions.
What would the world be like if one could see through the eyes of another? Would it help us to understand each other? Would it help us to understand ourselves?
Their approach consists of designing interactive experiments in collaboration with ‘real people’ (volunteers, such as artists, activists, and the audiences of the cultural centres). With a defined individual or group, they conduct informal interviews and debates to create performances addressing issues like peaceful co-living, prejudice of other kinds of ideological conflicts. The experiments are followed by discussions about each one’s perception of identity after experiencing to see the world through the eyes of another one (in case of the users) and sharing a life story (in case of the performers).
Their primary interest in this approach is to use the ‘Machine’ as a tool to help to promote empathy among individuals of different social, cultural and ideological contexts. However, they are also open to new points of views and interests that might be offered by the collaborators.
Type of product
‘The Machine’ is a low budget Creative Commons technology based on Papers published on the Web for researchers on Embodiment, from institutions such as Group Ehrsson from Karolinska Institutet, in Stockholm, and Event Lab, in Barcelona. The project has been supported by many people for over two years, and also pleased to have reached this day mostly under their own financial support.
The system was developed with the support of the Media lab Hangar and the Universitat Pompeu Fabra (both in Barcelona), besides the interdisciplinary orientation of Grid Spinoza project (from Hangar). During a four months’ art residency at the L’estruch Cultural Center (in Sabadell, Spain) the project was tested as a SOCIAL APPLICATION in a series of experiments and performances involving people from local community. The Machine was also part of the Medicine Hack Day – an event promoted by MIT in Madrid – in which they’ve collaborated with neurologists to design rehabilitation and diagnosis systems. They are attempting to develop our system through collaboration further.
Brief description of the product / outcome / method
This interactive performance-installation is built in 2 identical spaces: one for the user and another for the performer.
Through immersive goggles (head mounted displays), the user sees a video with the eyes’ perspective of a different person (the performer), who follows the former’s movements. So, it all happens in a way in which the user kind of ‘controls’ the performer‘s movements.
The user can move and interact with objects inside a room while listening to the performer‘s thoughts through a set of headphones. That generates the perception of someone speaking inside their mind.
The video transmitted to the user’s goggles is generated by a camera attached to the performer, that records his/her point of view in real time. The performer also wears a microphone used to tell a short story about his/her existence. This non-linear narrative is connected to the objects in the room (a photo of someone, a childhood toy, a pack of cigarettes, a mirror, etc.), making them interactive: when the user interacts with one object, the performer starts to speak about his experience and memories related to this object.
In general terms, the system merges technology with other variables: the performance, an interactive narrative (related to objects disposed at the same position in two identical spaces), the experiment’s assistants (with whom they can explore the touch sense), as well as sensorial/motor/physical stimuli disposed in the space, with which the user can interact. As for the objects, we always make use of mirrors and other different things that the user can either throw or feel (like a glass of water or a bunch of flowers).
The technological part consists of low budget material arranged in a way in which everything works perfectly. We use camera mapping of the user’s space, and digital compasses to track the user‘s head and body direction. As for the performer, we use a subjective camera controlled by servomotors, which is synchronised with the head position. Besides HMDs, Arduinos and RF transmitters to make it as wireless as possible.
Impact on target groups / Transferability potential
Promote empathy and understanding between participants.
The low budget technology used contributes to increasing transferability potential. This Project is an Open Source experiment, so the ori¡ginal promoters are open to help in the support of new tests development by third parties or collaborators.
Promoter of the initiative
Name of organization / individual: BeAnotherLab