Avatars 97 Extended Panel Descriptions

Virtual Environments for Healing
Can our brave new worlds make us well?

What does it mean to be healed, in the sense of whole and wholly loving, human beings? How can we use virtual selves, relationships and spaces to heal ourselves -- body, mind and soul? Who are the pioneers of cyberspace healing, and how can they help return us to wholeness? This panel looks at cyberspace as healing place, avatar as anima, virtual reality as healing art. For in its deepest promise and most profound practice, virtual reality -- as both healing modality and healing art form -- is a transformative technology with extraordinary power to make and keep us well. We become what we behold; in beholding ourselves as healed, virtual selves, we can become the selves of our deepest and most healing dreams. Could healing be the "killer application" of our digital future -- not because it kills, but because it heals?

Speakers include:

Anthony Lloyd of BioControl, whose BioMuse VR biocontroller lets your "body electric" control computers with your eyes, play games with your cheeks, and make music with your heartbeat.

Carrie Heeter, whose research in telepresence and telerelationships examines the healing benefits of creating and maintaining social relationships in cyberspace.

Tom Riess, who, stricken with crippling Parkinson's disease, devised augmented reality glasses to help himself and others walk again.

Tamiko Thiel, artist/engineer, creative director of Starbright World, and designer of sensuous thinking machines for adults and online avatar playspaces for seriously ill children.

Galen R. Brandt (panel coordinator), writer and VR performer, who, in taking Tiny Dancing lessons in cyberspace, learned that big hope from Tiny Dancing grows.

Panelist's short essays

Tamiko Thiel:
Throughout our lives, we continually redefine ourselves and when possible, our environment. Chronic illnesses can inhibit this process, but artists like Toulouse-Lautrec and Frida Kahlo transcended their illnesses by creating and inhabiting fantasy worlds, developing themselves in ways they were denied in real life. Participatory virtual reality worlds that let people build the environment and community they inhabit, as well as experiment with other selves as avatars, can bring this experience to a wide range of people. These spaces can provide the healing benefits of immersive, creative play, self-expression, and communication with others in a shared context.

Now we can use the electrical energy of our human nervous system to communicate, control and heal, empowering even the traumatically disabled to get in touch with their "body electric." The BioMuse is a revolutionary "biocontroller" which converts electrical biosignals from muscle contractions, eye movement, heartbeat and even brainwaves into realtime electronic commands, allowing low-cost, hands-free virtual control of devices ranging from computer cursors to radio-controlled airplanes and motorized wheelchairs. Also a biosignal-to-MIDI converter, the BioMuse can turn even severely impaired humans into living MIDI controllers who can play music.
BioControl Vice President Anthony Lloyd will demonstrate this natural and healing interface that lets you control computers with your eyes, play games with your cheeks, and make music with your heartbeat.

Cyberspace can emerge as a medium for sustaining social relationships: kin-keeping, caring, friendship, and support. Already we see online mourning of the dead, online family photo albums, photochat sessions, and webtalk study groups. Heeter lives in San Francisco, runs the Michigan State University Communication Technology Laboratory remotely and directs a team of 20 others in East Lansing developing Virtual University courses. Her talk will focus on: examples of telereleating today; gender differences in telerelating; Heeter's experiments as a virtual boss, teacher and friend; and a wish list of new personal appliances and software for maintaining and enhancing close personal relationships.

Gait abnormalities seen in Parkinson's Disease such as akinesia (frozen movement) and dyskinesia (jerky, uncontrolled movement) are extremely debilitating and result in much of the morbidity (38% fall, 13% more than once a week) and social isolation associated with this disease. "Kinesia paradoxa" (paradoxical movement) is a well-documented phenomenon whereby in the presence of so called "visual cues," Parkinsonian subjects can overcome akinesia and related gait problems. Visual cues which are effective in evoking this response usually consist of an array of regularly-spaced objects, such as stairs or evenly-spaced floor tiles, which the subject steps over. My talk is about the development of a therapeutic device, augmented reality glasses, which evoke the same response by generating on demand the virtual equivalent of visual cues without impairing the subject's ability to see the real world. This new technology is being developed by combining the emerging technologies of virtual reality, high-intensity micro L.E.D..'s and chip circuitry in order to generate this imagery and project it onto a transparent screen contained within eyewear. This eyewear must meet requirements of space, portability, social acceptability and hands-free controls. I have devised and tested several prototype versions on myself and fellow Parkinson's subjects with very encouraging results, and will demonstrate this therapeutic device.

For the last six years, I have performed as Tiny Dancer (and Spline Creature and a shape-shifting flower called VoiceDancer, and....) in VIDEOPLACE, the "computer-controlled responsive environments" of artificial reality pioneer Myron Krueger. As I move in front of a brightly lit backdrop, a video camera captures my image as distinguished from that backdrop, and Krueger's "responsive machines" turn me into a virtual Tiny Dancer projected on a video screen. A second camera watches Krueger's hands on a lit desktop (his VIDEODESK) and projects them, enormous, onto the same screen. Suddenly, I can float and fly, a virtual Tinkerbell -- then land, ever so gracefully, in the palm of Krueger's virtual hand. For those moments, I become the Tiny Dancer I have secretly seen and known myself to be, transfixed by a transcendent new relationship with myself and with those hands. I lose my recent memory of my body's limitations, and refind my deeper memory of its limitless power -- I become a body of knowledge that knows itself as infinitely self-transforming. Here is what my Tiny Dancing lessons have taught me: We and the world are not fact, but vision. To change the way you see and experience yourself is to change yourself, down to your neurons. Big hope from Tiny Dancing grows. And the longest, most important healing journey may well begin with tiny, dancing steps in cyberspace.

Franz Buchenberger, The Business Value of 3D Communities

Applications: online consulting, e-commerce, distance learning,
product trainings, entertainment
Customer Benefits: customer loyalty, direct marketing, direct sales,
team learning, communication
User Benefits: personal involvement, communication,
building/maintaining relationships
Market Evolution: techies, early adopters, early mainstream

Major challenges:

Stage 1: bandwidth, client processing, stable software, content creation
cost and skills

Stage 2: compelling applications, scaleable architectures, social
engineering, usability

Stage 3: integration, maintenance, extension of applications

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