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Bringing the dead back to life with Virtual Reality

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The technology that powers the current crop of Virtual Reality headsets is increasingly impressive – and with each new succession or iteration, we stumble ever closer to a digital approximation of life. What if, instead of bringing virtual worlds to life through VR, we could bring the deceased back to life? That’s what Australian developer Paranormal Games wants to do with its new bit of software the Samsung Gear VR codenamed Project Elysium.

The studio’s cofounders both suffered the loss of their respective fathers, and brainstormed the app as a digital method of helping cope with the loss of a loved one. There are few details on how it works, how users are meant to “scan” in details of their deceased loved ones or how they plan to make it authentic. It also almost certainly treads shaky moral and ethical ground, but I think is a better tool for coping with loss than the cold and hot-reading predatorial scumbags that purport to talk to the dead like John Edward and other villainous, lying mediums who prey on the bereaved for personal gain.

According to its developers, it’s not meant to replace a loved one, and instead are looking to provide a bit of hyper realism – making this like a virtual, 3D photograph.

“We aren’t chasing realism; in fact we are aiming more towards hyper realism. Where one can always discern that this is a Virtual Reality so there is no confusion,” says Paranormal’s Nick Stavrou

And to prevent weird, unexpected things from happening, it won’t be a simulation.

“Every time you enter your project it will be the same experience. This is to ensure that nothing unexpected happens to the viewer and is a controlled environment. So when your project is completed it’s your and yours alone. We don’t keep it, it’s a custom built piece of software” explained Stavrou

That’s if they manage to do it, of course. I don’t see this really coming to fruition and being anything more than a laughable gimmick – at least not until computer AI is sufficiently advanced to regularly and consistently pass the (admittedly skewed) Turing test.

There are also, of course, mental health issues to consider, and for some, seeing a virtual recreation of a recently deceased loved one  – especially one that’s a poor facsimile – might be terribly traumatic.

What do you think? Does this skirt ethical boundaries that make you uncomfortable? Is it a cool idea that could help people cope with loss, or is it – like VR in general – a gimmick that’ll never really take shape?

Last Updated: May 4, 2015

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