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Virtual Reality Journalism: a New Way to Experience Empathy

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Virtual Reality gaming

Until recently, ‘to walk in someone else’s shoes’ was only a saying meant to help people gain perspective on the lives of others.  It was a statement of imagination.  However this is no longer true.  The days where thinking about the experiences of others have now evolved with the help of virtual reality.  Now we can literally ‘walk in someone else’s shoes’.  We can see what they see, interact with what they interact, and be given the freedom to roam and act within their environment and situation.

In an interesting talk during this year’s New York Tech Crunch Disrupt Fred Wilson touched upon the topic of The Machine to be Another: an artistic project that put people in different and controversial situations they wouldn’t be able to access through simply watching the news or a documentary.   Most of us haven’t been soldiers on a battlefield, disabled, or elderly.  None of us have ever looked into the mirror and seen another face- except those using virtual reality to “be another”.

Virtual reality gives us the option to remove what little distance there is that a camera and TV screen leaves us when we watch the news.  VR journalism is a term describing the new ways to put viewers directly in on the front lines in Syria or in blast radius of tear gas during a protest.  VR journalism removes us from our third party positions and turns us into participants.  Instead of watching journalists or narrative documentaries,  VR journalist allows views to hear a story by being in it instead of being told.

In situations such as violent crime, it has the power to make us not only feel what it feels like to be a victim, but also to feel what it feels like to be the assailant.  Take for example the report of an armed robbery.  It’s easy to assume what it would be like to experience what the victim experiences: fear, anxiety, helplessness.  But to experience a burglary through the perspective of the burglar makes for an interesting spin on how we empathize.  What does a criminal experience while committing a crime?  Sometimes we forget that empathy is a two way street.  It’s an emotion that can be experienced not only for those victimized but also for those who are creating victims.  

What implications does this have on our psychology?  In a world where we can (almost) physically occupy the situations of others, how does our deepened sense of empathy have an effect on our daily lives?  What’s remarkable about virtual reality is that it’s applications are proving to exceed merely areas of film and entertainment.  It’s proving to be useful to society and to public psychology.

If VR journalism can put a Trump supporter in the shoes of an illegal immigrant, or a pro-life activist in the shoes of young woman getting an abortion, how will this affect common controversies in today’s society?  How will it affect the way an individual draws their conclusion?  

Looking for a VR set?  Check out our reviews on the best VR set you can buy today.

What's up!? I'm Katrina. I'm wandering, collecting, witnessing and learning. I'm drawn to all things found at the intersection of art and technology. If I could go back in time, I think I'd be best friends with Mark Twain, Nikola Tesla and Cleopatra. When I'm not obsessing about the human endeavor or the nature of time, I'm probably cooking or dancing.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Khai

    August 18, 2016 at 9:00 pm

    That is an interesting interpretation of how Virtual Reality can apply to health and journalism. It is an interesting take to finally walk in someone’s shoes and understand a new layer of information that’s often misunderstood.

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Near Space Labs Eyeing To Capture All of Earth

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What do climate change, traffic, and the military have in common? The need for geospatial intelligence. Anyone involved in these fields will need reliable and high-quality imagery to observe trends and use analytics to better and advance their fields. One company, in particular, aims to provide high-quality geospatial imagery at an affordable price. Near Space Labs is the name, and democratizing geospatial intelligence imagery is the game. Read more about them here.

What Does Near Space Labs Do?

Founded by Rema Matevoysan, Ignasi Lluch, and Albert Caubet, Near Space Labs is a geospatial intelligence company. Their mission is to provide high-quality images for organizations involved in the government, insurance, military, climate change, and urban planning fields.

They’ve been operational since 2016, although they were named Swiftera at the time. Since then, they’ve revolutionized the geospatial field, providing clearer images and access to data.

Unlike other geospatial intelligence companies, Near Space Labs is committed to reducing emissions with their balloon fleet.

Their platform takes images anywhere, and data collected by their Swifties can be viewed with anyone who has a subscription with Near Space Labs. Data is not exclusive to any business or company, which anyone can use for whatever purpose. 

One area of land they focus on capturing is urbanized areas. After all, you’ll see more changes in urbanized land, and they aim to give updated data to anyone who needs access to it. Matevosyan revealed in an interview that she preferred providing imagery for municipalities and businesses. The images can be valuable for weather-related events and faster response to disasters.

The Swifty Balloon

Capturing images from a high altitude can become expensive. But Near Space Labs have come up with a weather balloon, they named Swifty. Technically, Swifty is their “autonomous high altitude platform.” It can go as high as 85,000 feet to capture images and capture, at the most, 1,000 km worth of imagery in one flight.

However, they work alongside the Federal Aviation Administration to ensure they don’t violate any airspace laws.

Currently, the Swifties have captured over 600,000 images and have taken 300,000 km2 worth of images captured from the stratosphere. Plus, it has logged over 600 hours worth of flight. The company has over eight Swifties in operation.

What Makes Swifty Different?

Aside from affordable rates, Near Space Labs takes 50x clearer photos than any satellite. Not only that, considering they use balloons, they have a plug-and-play model. This gives them an opportunity to iterate technology, something satellites cannot do since they’re in orbit.

How Have Near Space Labs Thrived During the Pandemic?

Although many businesses have faced challenges during the height of the pandemic, the geospatial startup found an opportunity to capture images from anywhere. That’s without the need for the staff or founders to fly to a location. They can ship the Swifty and include a manual to train someone to launch their robot into the stratosphere.

In 2020, they were planning to expand to Texas. It was a smooth ride for them to expand to the state and even set up a technical team to launch Swift there.

Plus, considering they offer a cost-effective solution than other geospatial organizations, many companies have expressed an interest in using their data. The conservation field, in particular, has spiked its applications in 2020.

Funding and Future of Near Space Labs

Crosslink Capital, Toyota Ventures, Leadout Capital, and Wireframe Ventures contributed to the $13M in funding Near Space Labs received for their Series A round. This funding can help them with capturing more imagery for governments and organizations needing data and analytics. Plus, with what they’ve earned so far, Near Space Labs aims to invest in getting new hires.

Not only that, but they have booked 540 flights until 2022! Expect more Swifties to float in the air.

For other tech and startup stories, check out Owner’s Mag!

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Afraid of Robots Taking Jobs? Don’t Be. Here’s Why

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One particular paper in 2013 caught the attention of many Internet users that jobs can be automated by robots. And that has made any working person dread losing their job to robots. The robot takeover may seem like it’s in its infancy stages; what people should remember about some robots taking jobs is they’re taking over ones we DON’T want to do. At least, that’s it for now.

Let’s take a look at what robots have been doing now and how they can help automate tasks in the future.

Fear of Robots Taking Jobs

Now that robots have slowly taken part in the workforce, many worry, especially millennials, that they can lose their jobs within the next five years.

That said, the future may look bleak for workers that are already competing with robots in the workplace. But robots can also become advantageous in making our lives easier. Plus, they can even give us insight into the unfamiliar territory before robots become fully integrated into our workforce.

Coronavirus

When Covid-19 hit globally, it was challenging for humans to be in close contact with one another. After all, people wanted to reduce the spread of the virus. Unfortunately, due to the virus, many have lost their jobs to the pandemic. While that’s the reality, robots have been essential to helping humans live their lives.

For example, a city in the UK employed the help of robots to deliver items. Although this is a prime example of robots taking jobs, robots help expedite deliveries and reduce the spread of the virus. Think of the robots as stand-ins for contactless deliveries.

Another example that stands out is Japan. The land of the rising sun is no stranger to using robots. 

The need for robots has increased, considering the aging population. And the pandemic has accelerated the demand to add robots to the workforce. The food industry, in particular, has reaped the benefits of using robots. One restaurant has used robots as part of their service crew, and they aim to bring food to the table faster than humans.

Space Exploration

When it comes to space exploration, humankind has left its mark and took a big leap on the moon. Since then, there have been no missions going to other planets. However, there are plans for humans to explore Mars. As big a feat this is, it’s unclear if Mars’s atmosphere and environment are safe for humans.

But to give us context on life on Mars, NASA’s rovers help us gain more insight into the red planet. From there, they can help humankind to determine if it’s safe to explore the red planet.

Construction

One industry has benefited from using robots in the workforce. 

The Boston Dynamics robotic dog has helped project managers in construction expedite their work. So far, the robot has done inspections and documentation work for project managers. This is a prime example of robots not taking someone’s job but helping humans, making processes smoother and faster.

The Future of Robots and Automation

The future is bright for robots. CNBC reported that over 20 million robots may replace humans in the workforce by 2030. Manufacturing is an industry that will be hit the most if this happens.

But, if you’re paranoid that a robot will take over your job sometime in the future, here’s a website that calculates the risk of robots taking jobs from humans. Most jobs do have a low risk of getting automated, like creatives, lawyers, and doctors in specific fields. 

However, it’s important to remember that robots are the best at automation. Sure, they can make life easier for humans, but they’re not 100% replacing all the jobs in the workforce. Simply put, their job is to help humans automate some everyday tasks to ensure maximum productivity and input. And they can help out with documentation and data that can take time to be processed by humans.

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Electronic Monitoring is Restrictive – Researchers Say

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According to new research, electronic monitoring is one of the most restrictive forms of control. This comes as a mere second to prison and considered as a form of incarceration that occurs outside of its walls.

The coronavirus pandemic has led the judicial system to come up with a new form of monitoring inmates. They have turned more to electronic monitoring, such as those attached to ankles. This confirms the long-standing arguments of activists and advocates alike: electronic monitoring is oppressively burdensome. They see it as subjecting inmates to vague rules and seemingly branding them as people with “disreputable character.”

Ankle Monitor Manufacturers

The same research also tells us that only four ankle monitor manufacturers dominate the industry. They believe that this will drive more people to go back to prison. These profit-seeking companies make millions in dollars annually for a whopping 64% of the contracts included in the study. 

This comes from the new and complete compilation of numerous electronic monitoring-related rules and policies, and contracts. All were gathered from public records and requests from 44 states. According to the report, the companies are: 

  • Attenti
  • BI Inc.
  • Satellite Tracking of People LLC
  • Sentinel Offender Services LLC

Privacy and Security Issues Related to Electric Monitoring

The study also found that location data was kept indefinitely after monitoring, although all within the law. Governments ask family members and employers to act as their agents to report potential violations. This may seem awkward as they will have the task of being in a supporting role as well as supervisory.

It is of utmost importance that inmates who wear the ankle monitors pay one-time and ongoing fees for these monitors. Said amount can be anywhere from $25 up to $8,000 each year. The research sees these as costs that undermine financial security “when it is needed most.”

On the other hand, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Prisons claimed that in 2018, it only costs under $100 per day or over $36,000 per year to detain a federal inmate. California, particularly the Los Angeles and Sacramento counties pay $22 each day. This is due to the fact that these counties impose the highest costs yearly. 

Kate Weisburd, associate professor of law at George Washington University, has this to say about this:

“This is a form of incarceration that happens outside of prison walls.” Weisburd was the team lead of a group of 10 law students who analyzed and filed the documents. She added, “It’s always intended to be a positive alternative to incarceration. But based on what we found, it’s doing the opposite. More rules and more surveillance generally leads to higher incarceration.”

Compliance and Violations

The report also tells us that electronic monitoring follows hundreds of government rules that make compliance even more difficult. Add to that the vague rules that make it even harder. An excellent example of this is the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Parole’s mandate that wearers “shall abandon evil associates and ways.”

According to Weisburd’s study, the results are open to interpretation, making the wearers vulnerable to technical violations of the rules. Wearers may face punishment for infractions that were once ignored and unseen.

Most cases of electronic monitoring, though, have uses in house arrests. This means that wearers must remain in or near their homes for a specific period. Weisburd’s team gathered that many agencies fail to explain clearly the permissions that they require. 

Weisburd also proceeded to state that every record they looked into had a negative impact. These undermine people’s capability of surviving outside of prison. It has become more difficult with rules to follow that are vague and broad.

For other stories, check out more here on Owner’s Mag.

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