Online dating is frequently bemoaned as the cause of all manner of evil: it’s hampering interpersonal connection, allowing douchebags to run rampant through the dating scene, and reducing something so innately human to cold statistics and match percentages. This all may be true, but it’s too early to decide that technology has no part in romance. Cyborg Dating, a project from Sander Veenhof and Rosa Frabsnap, presented at the Impakt Festival in Utrecht, demonstrated one possible way virtual reality can create intimacy instead of destroying it.
The idea behind Cyborg Dating is simple: two people go on a date, one of them wearing a VR headset, in this case Google Cardboard. The person wearing the headset finds herself in an 3-D-rendered forest, while the other keeps his eyes on the streets of downtown Utrecht, which served as the location for the project. This is an example OutdoorVR, which uses portable VR devices and incorporates natural stimulus as part of virtual reality instead of trying to create stimulus from scratch. For example, the animated forest in this project used GPS coordinates corresponding to buildings in the real world to place trees and other objects. This lent a realism to the experience, even though what the participant was seeing was wildly different from their real surroundings.
Working together, the person using VR can lead the way to her destination, while the non-cyborg makes sure his partner doesn’t get hit by a car. Along the way, the software tries to heighten the mood with little tricks, like “suggestions on what to say.” There are also other options for enhancing the romance: “A rose could be given to the human guide. The contents of a picnic basket could be shared. And at one point en route, the forest could be switched to nighttime, to subtly nudge the date towards a romantic ending,” reads an explanation on the project’s website. Ooh la la.
Veenhof and Frabsnap consider this technology a peek into what our social encounters will be like in the future, when they predict most of us will be interfacing with both virtual and regular reality simultaneously. Their project proves that tech can be used to bring people together, even while our sense of humanity is changing. In any case, it sure beats OKCupid.