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Case Study of TheMachineToBeAnother – MIT DocLab

The Limits of Virtual Reality: Debugging the Empathy Machine

by Ainsley Sutherland

“If you grip the handles, sir, you will… share his suffering, as you know, but that is not all. You will also participate in his… World-view’ is not the correct term. Ideology? No. […] No word will do, and that is the entire point. It cannot be described — it must be experienced.”

— The Little Black Box, by Philip K. Dick (Published in Worlds of Tomorrow, 1964)

The Machine to be Another is a performance piece that could almost be drawn from the eerily prescient world of 1960s science fiction. Outfitted with an Oculus Rift, headphones, and seated safely in a chair, participants swap perceptual systems with a performer. When I participated in the experience, I was guided blindfolded into a room. Opening my eyes, I found myself staring in a mirror at someone else’s face. As I slowly lifted my hands, I felt an eerie frisson at the minute delay between thought and action, a feeling that intensified when I ran my fingers over a ring I could feel and knew I wore, but could not see.

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