A grieving mother meets her deceased daughter in VR / Humans + tech - #16

+ Snapchat has mental health tools in the app + This AI could reunite families after an earthquake + Outside the green bubble of China’s super-app + How big companies spy on your emails


A South Korean TV network has released a clip from their special documentary I Met You showing how the company used VR and haptic feedback technology to reunite Jang Ji-sung with her seven-year-old daughter, who passed away as a result of a rare incurable disease in 2016.

The mother breaks down into tears as soon as she sees her daughter’s virtual avatar. They talk, play a little, have a birthday party for her daughter, sit down at the table to have some soup together, after which she puts her daughter to sleep.

I’m still unsure whether this is a good or bad use of VR. On the one had it could provide closure to those who have lost loved ones suddenly. On the other hand, could the living get attached or even addicted to the virtual avatars of their departed loved ones and never let go?

Watch the video by clicking through to Article #1 below and then let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Here are this week’s articles:

  1. 👓VR technology reunites grieving mother with her deceased child [VR Scout]

  2. 🌸Snapchat will now offer mental health tools in the app [MIT Technology Review]

  3. 🤖This AI could reunite families after an earthquake [The Next Web]

  4. 💬Outside the green bubble of China’s super-app [Sixth Tone]

  5. 👀How big companies spy on your emails [Vice]

… and links to 10 more awesome articles further below.

1. VR technology reunites grieving mother with her deceased child

Kyle Melnick, writing for VR Scout:

We’ve seen VR technology used in a variety of incredible ways, but nothing quite as extraordinary as bringing the dead back to life.

This week South Korean-based television and radio network Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation released a clip from their special documentary I Met You showing how the company used VR and haptic feedback technology to reunite Jang Ji-sung with her seven-year-old daughter, Nayeon, who passed away as a result of a rare incurable disease back in 2016. And although the interactions are simple and the experience itself is brief, the virtual reunion clearly has a significant emotional impact on the grieving mother of four.

You can click over to the article and watch a 10-minute clip of the mother’s first interaction with her daughter.

I’m conflicted as to whether this is good or bad. On the one hand, it could provide closure. On the other, they could get attached (or even addicted?) to the virtual avatar of their loved one and refuse to let go. What do you think? Let me know in the comments.

Go to article

2. Snapchat will now offer mental health tools in the app

Tanya Basu, writing for MIT Technology Review:

Snapchat has released a beta version of a search tool called “Here For You” that will connect users to mental health resources.

How will it work? A user who types in words indicating distress will be guided to content designed to help. For example, someone who searched “anxiety” in Snapchat would be directed to “Chill Pill,” a new in-house-produced series featuring short anxiety-reducing videos. Other searchable topics will include “depression, stress, grief, suicidal thoughts, and bullying.” This Saturday, Snapchat is due to release a new original video series, “Mind Yourself,” which follows people dealing with various mental health issues, including PTSD, OCD, and body dysmorphia. 

Social media companies are best placed to recognise possible mental health issues and they can try and address the issues in a subtle manner like Snapchat is trying. This could have a huge impact on society if it’s successful.

Go to article

3. This AI could reunite families after an earthquake

Thomas Macaulay, writing for The Next Web:

A new AI prototype could transform how earthquake aftermaths are managed, by predicting the safest routes that families can take to find their loved ones.

The last time a devastating earthquake had struck Turkey was in 1999, around 150-200 kilometers from Istanbul. Official records put the death toll at 18,373 people. 

Scientists believe that the next one will be of a similar magnitude — but this time they expect it to be directly in Istanbul, the home of 15 million people. The ImpactHub team believed that AI could help reduce its impact.

It always brings a smile to my face when technology used for good. Most news these days focusses on the negatives of technology, so it’s heart-warming when stories like this are reported.

Go to article

4. Outside the green bubble of China’s super-app

Lin Qiqing, writing for Sixth Tone:

In China, you can call a cab, get bubble tea delivered to your door, and even apply to get divorced all on the same social media app: WeChat. But that’s not enough to win over Shanghai lawyer Zhu.

In the seven years since WeChat was released by internet giant Tencent, it has seeped into almost every aspect of daily Chinese life, and now boasts over 1 billion monthly users worldwide — just short of the size of China’s total population. Zhu is one in a small minority of smartphone users who has never tried it.

“I hope to create more of a challenge when the government tries to map our big data,” 36-year-old Zhu, who did not want to give her real name for privacy reasons, tells Sixth Tone. The WeChat-objector lives the life of a Luddite, without e-commerce giant Alibaba’s mobile payment app Alipay or ride-hailing app Didi, which both require registration using a phone number tied to the user’s ID. “I know my data will be collected somehow in the end, but I just want to have more dignity,” she says, linking her heightened concern for privacy to her legal education.

WeChat is Facebook, WhatsApp, Apple Pay, Skype, Venmo, Uber, Uber Eats, Instagram, Tinder, Spotify, and more, all rolled into one app.

It’s owner, Tencent, doesn’t allow any links to competitor services to be posted on the app. Everything on the app is monitored and content is censored. Posting anything against the government can even get you locked up.

Choosing not to use WeChat can make life very difficult in China. Both professionally and personally. Many businesses only accept WeChat for payment.

It’s increasingly the case, not only in China with WeChat, that we have to trade our privacy for convenience.

Go to article

5. How big companies spy on your emails

Joseph Cox, reporting for Vice:

The popular Edison email app, which is in the top 100 productivity apps on the Apple app store, scrapes users’ email inboxes and sells products based off that information to clients in the finance, travel, and e-Commerce sectors. The contents of Edison users’ inboxes are of particular interest to companies who can buy the data to make better investment decisions, according to a J.P. Morgan document obtained by Motherboard.

On its website Edison says that it does “process” users’ emails, but some users did not know that when using the Edison app the company scrapes their inbox for profit. Motherboard has also obtained documentation that provides more specifics about how two other popular apps—Cleanfox and Slice—sell products based on users’ emails to corporate clients.

Last month the company created a page on its website telling users how to opt-out from the sale of their data. Rakuten told Motherboard in an email this was introduced to comply with the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).

This is why pro-consumer privacy laws are critical. The reality is that most consumers never read the terms and conditions of the apps they use. Without the CCPA, many users may never have been made aware that this was how Edison monetized its free app. As they say, if something is free, you’re the product.

Go to article

10 more interesting articles

  1. The lost art of having a chat: what happened when I stopped texting and started talking [The Guardian]

  2. Our world is a system, in which physical and social technologies co-evolve [Aeon]

  3. The coronavirus is the first true social-media “infodemic” [MIT Technology Review]

  4. Deleting your social media accounts after a breakup will set you free [Vice]

  5. Our phones can now detect health problems from Parkinson’s to depression. Is that a good thing? [Vox]

  6. Robot analysts outwit humans on investment picks study shows [Bloomberg]

  7. Mind Those Manners: Kids Need Lessons in Email and Phone Etiquette [The Washington Post]

  8. Robot-assisted high-precision surgery has passed its first test in humans [MIT Technology Review]

  9. Why Is Social Media So Addictive? [Gizmodo]

  10. China has launched an app so people can check their risk of catching the coronavirus [MIT Technology Review]

Quotes of the week

Here are two quotes this week with opposing views to mirror my conflicted feelings about the South Korean mother meeting her deceased daughter in VR.

"That's the difference between the real and the virtual. Reality is where you can lose the ones you love. Reality is the place where you can feel the cracks in your heart."
— Marie Lu (Wildcard (Warcross, #2))


"Virtual reality is a self-created form of chosen reality. Therefore it exists."

— Joan Lowery Nixon (Don't Scream)

I wish you a brilliant day ahead in actual reality :)