Season 1, Episode 9: Technology
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Labels of Love logo designed by Jen Sung.
Show notes photography by Jonathan Ichikawa.
- "Labels of Love Jingle Music" by Carrie Jenkins. All rights reserved.
- "Data" by Mystery Mammal. Creative Commons Licence.
- "Robot Heart" by Mystery Mammal. Creative Commons Licence.
- "Apollo" by Mystery Mammal. Creative Commons Licence.
Labels of Love is a research creation outcome of the Metaphysics of Love Project, supported by The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Additional financial support for the project comes from the Canada Research Chairs program and the University of British Columbia.
I am grateful for help, guidance, feedback, and support from: Drusilla, Ray Hsu, Jonathan Ichikawa, and Mezzo.
[Speaking in this episode you can hear: Jonathan Ichikawa, Carrie Jenkins, and Ray Hsu.]
Jonathan: You’re listening to Labels of Love.
Carrie: Hi and welcome to the podcast. I'm Carrie Jenkins, Professor of Philosophy at the University of British Columbia and the author of What Love Is And What It Could Be. Today I'm talking about technology with Dr. Ray Hsu. As well as being my collaborator on the research project behind these podcasts, Ray is the author of two books of poetry. One is called Anthropy and the other is called Cold Sleep Permanent Afternoon. Ray is also a professor at the University of British Columbia working in emerging media, and has a special interest in virtual reality. I spoke with Ray about how technology is impacting romantic love, and at one point during that conversation he mentions Mandy Len Catron's essay, "To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This." Longtime listeners of the podcast may remember Mandy from Episode 2, where she was our featured guest. So if you haven’t listened to that episode already, I recommend going and checking it out right after this one.
Ray: Hi, I'm Dr. Ray. I am a VR geek and also a professor at the University of British Columbia, where I co-head up the Emerging Media Lab.
Carrie: Can you say a little bit about how you got into virtual reality?
Ray: Mostly through feminism. So once upon a time, a biologist named Donna Haraway wrote an essay called "The Cyborg Manifesto." And basically the gist behind the Cyborg Manifesto is that we're far more interconnected, as far as our bodies are concerned, to technology, and also to other beings, than we usually admit. So the Cyborg Manifesto is at the beginning of what might be considered a strand of feminism, called cyberfeminism. And basically the gist behind that is that people who are coded as women tend to have their bodies mediated in all sorts of ways. And so acknowledging that, and also in a sense being able to use that as a form of agency. To be able to seize control of the ways in which one's body is mediated. So the question of what counts as a body within virtual reality is an interesting one. I have led hundreds of people through virtual reality experiences. You know, it's the first time that many of these people ever tried virtual reality. When they put on the VR headset, things really feel real, in a way that is initially disorienting. For one thing, when you look down, with the most sophisticated virtual reality experiences, you don't see a body. And so people are disoriented by not having a body, at first. But if they're doing an experience in which, let's say, they are walking on a plank off of a very tall skyscraper, then they can also feel incredibly nervous in a very bodily way. They can feel it in their bodies. They're busy sweating. Their heart starts beating really quickly. And there is really something about: what is our embodied experience? Because, after all, the person who is apparently walking this plank on a very high skyscraper is actually just standing in a room with me. Online dating is the second most common way for heterosexual couples to meet, according to the MIT Technology Review. Apparently, since 1995, with the introduction of the first dating websites like match.com, there is an increase in the observed rates of interracial marriage in the US. So according to the researchers Ortega and Hergovich, people who meet online tend to be complete strangers. And it's because of that that social links that weren’t there before suddenly exist. So there’s a virtual reality experience called Fall in Love VR. And this is by Kevin Cornish. And Cornish was inspired by an article in the New York Times that was itself inspired by Mandy Len Catron's "To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This." And what the virtual reality experience does is incorporate the 36 questions that are of increasing intimacy. And the user of the virtual reality experience answers these questions but with a virtual avatar. And these virtual avatars--there are five of them--are played by actors. In the virtual reality experience, the users' answers are processed by an artificial intelligence using natural language processing. And what it does is it changes the avatars' face so then it makes it seem as if they are really responding to the user. Even though users haven’t necessarily fallen in love with these artificial intelligence/virtual avatars, they do report that they feel something. They feel some kind of intimacy. According to Kevin Cornish, the maker of the Fall in Love VR experience, the users reported saying, "My wife would be jealous of this," or "My boyfriend would be jealous." So it suggests about the kind of sparks that the users felt. The work that I do with a research art collective called Eyemole, we specialize in virtual reality and its intersection with brain-computer interfaces. Which is basically when you have electrodes on your head and it’s reading your brainwaves and sending it to a computer and doing things with it. So one of the first projects that we did was allowing the user to swipe on Tinder using only their mind. Now there are a few interesting things about that. First off, it's out of your control. Taking the way in which your brain responds to Tinder profiles and swiping either left or right for you depending on how stimulating they are.
Carrie: But might that mean that you just hate the person?
Ray: It could. So being able to categorize emotions such as love or hate or anything else becomes part of the work that you have to do.
Carrie: Sounds like a job for a philosopher! Many thanks to today's guest, Ray Hsu. You can find out more about Ray at his website, which is drray.ca: that’s D.R.R.A.Y. dot C.A. Or you can find him on Twitter, @thewayofray. There's lots more information and links to all of the research that Ray was discussing in the show notes for this episode. You can find out more about my work at carriejenkins.net. Or you can follow me on Twitter where I'm @carriejenkins. This episode has featured music by Mystery Mammal. Thank you so much for listening.
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