Chris Milk: How virtual reality can create the ultimate empathy machine

Chris Milk: How virtual reality can create the ultimate empathy machine

Virtual reality started for me
in sort of an unusual place. It was the 1970s. I got into the field very young:
I was seven years old. And the tool that I used
to access virtual reality was the Evel Knievel stunt cycle. This is a commercial for
that particular item: (Video) Voice-over: What a jump! Evel’s riding the amazing stunt cycle. That gyro-power sends him
over 100 feet at top speed. Chris Milk: So this was my joy back then. I rode this motorcycle everywhere. And I was there with Evel Knievel; we
jumped the Snake River Canyon together. I wanted the rocket. I never got the rocket,
I only got the motorcycle. I felt so connected to this world. I didn’t want to be a storyteller
when I grew up, I wanted to be stuntman. I was there. Evel Knievel was my friend. I had so much empathy for him. But it didn’t work out. (Laughter) I went to art school. I started making music videos. And this is one of the early
music videos that I made: (Music: “Touch the Sky” by Kanye West) CM: You may notice
some slight similarities here. (Laughter) And I got that rocket. (Laughter) So, now I’m a filmmaker,
or, the beginning of a filmmaker, and I started using the tools that are
available to me as a filmmaker to try to tell the most compelling stories
that I can to an audience. And film is this incredible medium
that allows us to feel empathy for people that are very different than us and worlds completely
foreign from our own. Unfortunately, Evel Knievel did not feel the same
empathy for us that we felt for him, and he sued us for this video — (Laughter) — shortly thereafter. On the upside, the man
that I worshipped as a child, the man that I wanted
to become as an adult, I was finally able to get his autograph. (Applause) Let’s talk about film now. Film, it’s an incredible medium, but essentially, it’s the same
now as it was then. It’s a group of rectangles that are
played in a sequence. And we’ve done incredible things
with those rectangles. But I started thinking about, is there a way that I can use modern
and developing technologies to tell stories in different ways and tell different kinds of stories that maybe I couldn’t tell using
the traditional tools of filmmaking that we’ve been using for 100 years? So I started experimenting, and what I was trying to do was
to build the ultimate empathy machine. And here’s one of the early experiments: (Music) So this is called
“The Wilderness Downtown.” It was a collaboration with Arcade Fire. It asked you to put in the address
where you grew up at the beginning of it. It’s a website. And out of it starts growing these little
boxes with different browser windows. And you see this teenager
running down a street, and then you see Google Street View
and Google Maps imagery and you realize the street
he’s running down is yours. And when he stops in front of a house,
he stops in front of your house. And this was great, and I saw people
having an even deeper emotional reaction to this than the things that
I had made in rectangles. And I’m essentially taking
a piece of your history and putting it inside
the framing of the story. But then I started thinking, okay, well that’s a part of you, but how do I put all of you
inside of the frame? So to do that, I started
making art installations. And this is one called
“The Treachery of Sanctuary.” It’s a triptych. I’m going to show
you the third panel. (Music) So now I’ve got you inside of the frame, and I saw people having even more
visceral emotional reactions to this work than the previous one. But then I started thinking about frames,
and what do they represent? And a frame is just a window. I mean, all the media that we watch —
television, cinema — they’re these windows into
these other worlds. And I thought, well, great.
I got you in a frame. But I don’t want you in the frame,
I don’t want you in the window, I want you through the window,
I want you on the other side, in the world, inhabiting the world. So that leads me back to virtual reality. Let’s talk about virtual reality. Unfortunately, talking about virtual reality
is like dancing about architecture. And this is actually someone dancing
about architecture in virtual reality. (Laughter) So, it’s difficult to explain.
Why is it difficult to explain? It’s difficult because it’s a very
experiential medium. You feel your way inside of it. It’s a machine, but inside of it, it feels like real life,
it feels like truth. And you feel present in the world
that you’re inside and you feel present with the people
that you’re inside of it with. So, I’m going to show you a demo
of a virtual reality film: a full-screen version of
all the information that we capture when
we shoot virtual reality. So we’re shooting in every direction. This is a camera system that we built that has 3D cameras that look
in every direction and binaural microphones
that face in every direction. We take this and we build, basically,
a sphere of a world that you inhabit. So what I’m going to show you
is not a view into the world, it’s basically the whole world
stretched into a rectangle. So this film is called
“Clouds Over Sidra,” and it was made in conjunction with
our virtual reality company called VRSE and the United Nations, and a co-collaborator named Gabo Arora. And we went to a Syrian refugee camp
in Jordan in December and shot the story of a 12-year-old
girl there named Sidra. And she and her family fled Syria
through the desert into Jordan and she’s been living in this
camp for the last year and a half. (Video) Sidra: My name is Sidra. I am 12 years old. I am in the fifth grade. I am from Syria,
in the Daraa Province, Inkhil City. I have lived here in the Zaatari camp
in Jordan for the last year and a half. I have a big family: three brothers, one is a baby. He cries a lot. I asked my father if I cried when
I was a baby and he says I did not. I think I was a stronger baby
than my brother. CM: So, when you’re inside
of the headset. you’re not seeing it like this. You’re looking around through this world. You’ll notice you see full
360 degrees, in all directions. And when you’re sitting there
in her room, watching her, you’re not watching it through
a television screen, you’re not watching it through a window,
you’re sitting there with her. When you look down, you’re sitting
on the same ground that she’s sitting on. And because of that, you feel her humanity in a deeper way. You empathize with her in a deeper way. And I think that we can change
minds with this machine. And we’ve already started
to try to change a few. So we took this film to the World Economic
Forum in Davos in January. And we showed it to a group of people whose decisions affect the lives
of millions of people. And these are people
who might not otherwise be sitting in a tent
in a refugee camp in Jordan. But in January, one afternoon
in Switzerland, they suddenly all found themselves there. (Applause) And they were affected by it. So we’re going to make more of them. We’re working with the
United Nations right now to shoot a whole series of these films. We just finished shooting
a story in Liberia. And now, we’re going
to shoot a story in India. And we’re taking these films, and we’re showing them
at the United Nations to people that work there and people
that are visiting there. And we’re showing
them to the people that can actually change the lives
of the people inside of the films. And that’s where I think we just
start to scratch the surface of the true power of virtual reality. It’s not a video game peripheral. It connects humans to other humans
in a profound way that I’ve never seen before
in any other form of media. And it can change people’s
perception of each other. And that’s how I think virtual reality has the potential
to actually change the world. So, it’s a machine, but through this machine
we become more compassionate, we become more empathetic,
and we become more connected. And ultimately, we become more human. Thank you. (Applause)

Danny Hutson

76 thoughts on “Chris Milk: How virtual reality can create the ultimate empathy machine

  1. This is awesome! I can't wait for these kinds of films to become available to a large portion of the population! It can do wonders for our perspective of the world in general.

  2. until it VR becomes available for everyone, video games are the best empathy machines we have, VG put us in a shoes of a character inside a world rather than puts us on a seat. VG should not be seen as murder rapist trainer simulator whatever they're labeled these days

  3. Speaking about VR in front of a crowd of people who probably haven't tried VR is weird, VR cannot be described, so i don't really think VR is the subject of this talk but empathy is, VR is just the medium.

  4. I wish with all my heart that I could make movies in VR. Sadly … such rigs are out of my budget by far. I get by with a 600D. (Heck we made a movie for the cinemas with the canon 600D so I guess it isnt that bad) But it has its limits. 

    I want to explore new ways of telling stories. The VR revolution coming up is my best chance but there is hardly any equipment availible and if it is … its an early prototype and it costs more than a whole years worth of my income.

  5. Make the captured terrorists watch hundreds of hours. I know it sounds like brainwashing, but some could be changed to make a difference for good.

  6. This hardware will by used by your goberment to film how people die in the name os US consumer style of life and then create more and more Pamelas Andersons to sell manufactures without real sense, builds in middle east by capitalism slaves as well as your politics belive. (sorry by my english)

  7. Personally I haven't experienced VR, but I have video games, a lot of video games. I can tell you that video games are currently the best 'empathy machines'. In a good story driven video game your not moving the character, you are the character. His/her problems are your problems. His friendships are your friendships. I have nearly been moved to tears at some tragic video game moments (why, John Marston, did you have to die?) and no other form of media can do that to me. Films can't, TV programs can't. You may see video games as violent but its market enjoy gritty and violent, possibly morbid, stories.

    On the note with Palestinian Refugees, yes I would feel sorry for them but the solution isn't demanding that all Israeli residents to up sticks and move. The solution is demanding that the Palestinians not aggravate who owns the land, once they have proven themselves Israel may feel more comfortable with allowing them to resettle properly within their borders. They can either live together or move somewhere else.

  8. The VR REVOLUTION is silently taking place…
    Later this year the masses will witness it!…

  9. As much as VR games would be wanted by the masses. The use of VR as a way to convey messages to have people become a better people through VR WOULD be highly more demanded. I look forward to the day for either VR gaming or VR therapy.

  10. The feeling that you are actually there can't be overstated.

    The empathy you gain for your favorite movie character (think a movie you cry at) can be compared to the empathy you show in an insect in comparison. The difference is truly mind-blowing. It feels like trying to explain what vertigo feels like to someone who's never felt it.

    Seeing old white men in suits with those headsets on gives me a lot of hope.

  11. inb4 ads take over VR. like with every other medium in human history. someone should start coding adblock for VR (I bet people already started) Thank god for the opensource community.

  12. In my opinion VR, like so much tech we have, simulates triggers of empathy. But only simulates. It can act as a training for real empathy (at least as real as we can 'naturally' experience it between people), and I'm good with that, but it will always lack a realness as long as it is virtual in definition. VR is not my enemy, but I'll be damn sure that if I have a kid in the next couple decades, they'll know there are times to detach and put their lessons into practice. This includes all possible transhuman technologies/existences btw.

  13. Just what the social justice video market needed, Virtual Reality. How about some GAIMZ! At the start when the girl was sitting in class and the camera panned to the door I thought some terrorists were going to bust through and I could start shooting them. Make that game instead, I'll buy it.

  14. It all depends on how virtual reality subject matter is presented.  Virtual reality video games seem to lessen human qualities by delivering violence and mayhem without the pain and suffering being experienced.  They seem to build up a tolerance and addiction for more violence and mayhem that finds it's way out onto the street.

  15. So in the world of 360 degree cameras and VR, they're still going to rely on sad piano music to tell us what we should be feeling?

  16. Great video on one of the many world changing applications of VR.

    Virtual reality, is absolutely, the future.

  17. Emotional manipulation – good or bad? Eliciting empathy is a propaganda technique. Chris Milk doesn't mention that VR, like any medium, can be used for good or evil. "It makes us more human" – OR- it makes us more violent, or more servile, or more delusional, or more compliant with statist and global agendas. It just depends on what's on the screen. He is proud of his persuasion, and his intentions seem to be noble, but many other people will use this to persuade in different ways. Some social engineers and control agents will see Virtual Reality as a better tool for social conditioning and brainwashing. They will be right. That is what Chris Milk is saying. I am not saying the medium is bad, it is as good or bad as the content, but we need to stay conscious and skeptical of whatever media we consume and not trust the meduim based on one application.

  18. This guy and people like him must be smoking crack. This technology stuff is an addiction that's relegated to urban areas. Out here in the country we have zero interest in this crap. About half the people I know own a computer. About a quarter own a cell phone. I've never seen an eye-tampon or whatever they're called. Or a tablet, for that matter, except in the drug store. The thumb-zombie types that like this stuff live in cities. Kids where I live are outdoors, playing sports, raising animals for 4-H club stuff.

    I'm not kidding when I say it's an addiction like crack. We can spot a city person a mile away out here. They tend to go through crack-like withdrawal, jonesing for their Interweeb and citified "entertainment", thumbs flailing away, a manic, glazed expression on their faces.

    I personally think that people who are really into this stuff are sick. It's fun as an occasional diversion, like going into the city to see a movie once every six months, but all the time? That's not entertainment. It's an addiction.

  19. You are forgetting that we are very stubborn some people might get out of VR and realize it was all a trick to make them "good", so you get them stuck on a loop and actually make them either worse or crazier.

  20. So if I'm playing Doom using Oculus Rift (VR), does that make me more human or the worse kind of monster in the game?

  21. This presentation makes this techy, geeky filmmaker teary-eyed. I just got my own Samsung Gear VR and am cobbling together a 360 camera rig by velcro'ing two Kodak PixPro 360s together (an affordable solution till that Kickstarter I backed sends me a 4K Sphericam 2). As a storyteller, I am so very excited and inspired right now with the potential of this medium. The world is still figuring out what we can do with VR, but I look forward to experimenting, creating and sharing what will hopefully be moving experiences with the world. Chris Milk is my hero.

  22. Disturbing that someone would try to tell kids they can fly! Some people will try to. I think I gain sufficient empathy through 2D documentary and in my opinion this is a waste of western tax dollars, who is paying for this? Do all peoples want to lose their identity or heritage? No? So why are people constantly pushed to do so? I'm finding more and more evidence that white people are being persecuted and this is the first time I have ever obliged myself to write "white people" in a sentence. Time to speak up I guess for I do fear that we are losing our heritage. The good and the bad.

  23. Good tech, but even on my latest smart phone, some of the vids (from Vrse) are jittery. These are going to look much nicer and will be a more realistic experience when displays get better and hardware gets faster (not there yet).

  24. I like this video so much. But, Why I have to wear oculus rift machine to be a humanitarian or to think good about others. Has this good feeling come naturally from the core? Thus if I fed up of wearing this tool I can easily throw it with my good thinking!

  25. Do you mean this machine will help me to have more and quick intuition that help them to understand the people's body language and therefore how they think? But, I think people do have good to moderate intuition? Does this not enough?

  26. Great Video! VR is a great way to experience the virtual word. It has a great opportunity, it can open many possibilities in various fields. SteamRoll East

  27. The Sidra Project is a powerful tool for building empathy and support for refugees using VR and the movie "Clouds Over Sidra" by Chris Milk & Gabo Arora. We are hoping to make a larger impact in Canada & perhaps around the world. Help us help refugees using VR.

  28. This is a great way to spread propaganda. Check this out: "Crystallizing Public Opinion"
    byEdward L. Bernays

  29. En un mundo donde todo esta a un click de distancia pero las "obligaciones" crean barreras que imposibilitan el acercamiento, considero que es una herramienta para sensibilizar bastante efectiva, de alguna manera puedes poner a cualquier persona en los zapatos de cualquier persona y poder entrar en la realidad total que da esta herramienta, habilita todos los sentimientos compasivos que como seres humanos nos caracteriza. .Que importante aporte da la tecnología a la sociedad!

  30. Put one of these on Trump and mentally transport him to the jungle as an orangutang running for it's life from bulldozers… or a seabird drowning in oil might do the trick 🤷🏽‍♂️

  31. Great video ! Chris Milk's video about Virtual Reality has really influenced my team to make a VR project called Medusa.
    The immersive aspect is a great opportunity to feel closer to others.
    We even have a post of Facebook where you can debate about VR and empathy !

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