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Digital Memories More Powerful Than a Hurricane

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Digital Memories More Powerful Than a Hurricane

This past week, the USA passed a destructive, important one-year anniversary. On September 19, 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated...

9 Minutes Read

This past week, the USA passed a destructive, important one-year anniversary. On September 19, 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, with the resultant death of over 2,982 Americans.

As if the physical and mortal damage wasn’t bad enough, the lingering trauma of mental stress, trauma, and fragility that followed in Maria’s wake of the destruction is arguably a hidden aspect of the tragedy that was difficult to see, if no less debilitating. And how might technology, and the future of work play a role in the great “putting back together” that needs to happen in zones of catastrophe like Puerto Rico?

In short, what if you could use the power of the latest in digital technologies to recreate some of the treasured memories that were literally blown away, and gone with the destructive wind of the storm?

The answer may be closer than we realize.

From One Context to Another: Transposing Memory Curation

At the recent Aspen Action Summit, I had the chance to meet Marta Michelle Colón, founder of Buena Gente, a consulting firm that helps clients apply emotional intelligence to optimize their productivity and lift competitive advantage. Marta Michelle is also part of the vanguard that’s ensuring emotional health and wellness is an essential part of the reconstruction efforts in Puerto Rico. She participated in a panel discussion I was part of on the role of humanity in the Age of AI. I discussed the role of “Personal Memory Curator” from our “21 Jobs of the Future report, which the Center for the Future of Work had originally conceived of for pre-onset dementia seniors.

Astutely, Marta Michelle keyed in on whether or not the same skills – that is, using augmented reality and virtual reality to re-create experiences that combine physical space and multi-projected environments with realistic images, sounds and other sensations that simulate a person’s presence in a previous familiar time or environment – for survivors of tragedies like Hurricane Maria.

That is a great, astute, and insightful question.

And we believe the answer is an unqualified “yes”.

The Insidious Effect of Post-Disaster Toxic Stress

Marta Michelle has certainly seen first-hand the deleterious effects of toxic stress in the wake of the hurricane a year ago in Puerto Rico. “The future of any society depends on its ability to promote a healthy life”, she says. “Dealing with adversity is a basic instinct, triggering increasing heart rate, blood pressure and stress hormones, such as cortisol. However, if the response to stress is extreme and lasting, it can affect our physical and emotional system. Research shows that health can be derailed by excessive or prolonged activation of stress response systems. Toxic stress can have harmful effects on behavior, social interaction and health. This has been the case for Hurricane Maria.”

Consider the impact that a VR-enabled Personal Memory Curator could have to help alleviate some amount of these symptoms, for overall improved emotional health and wellness.

The Treasured Spaces that Could Unlock Memories – and Recovery

How many of our fondest memories (say, from multiple holidays, birthdays, or graduations) from a treasured location (such as grandma’s living room, or your parents parlor, and/or your own home) have been serially uploaded – perhaps from multiple angles by several family members - into digital photo galleries or social media, and now exist – safely - in the cloud? What if you could further use the latest VR technologies to “re-skin” a virtually exact replication of the space? And then you could sit in it, hang out there, savor the simulation, spark joy and calm your anxieties, even if only for a little while?

Believe it or not, the piece-part technologies to bring this aspect of the future of work to life exist today. We believe the application of here-and-now technologies like Nvidia's AI "Inpainting" tool coupled with context encoders will be essential to making Personal Memory Curators a real profession – with real results.

Moreover, at its May 2018 F8 conference, Facebook head of social VR Rachel Franklin described how you’ll be able to upload a group of individual photos or videos from an event or a place, and a new tool will use them to automatically create a 3D recreation of the space. Then, with a VR headset, you’ll be able to “walk around” the space, and do so with others using Facebook’s social VR features.

From a senior-care perspective, practitioners like Linda Jacobsen are already using VR to bring “a day full of dopamine” into adult care centers and nursing homes: pre-dementia seniors are asked "what was the address of the house where you raised your children?" They are then transported there in VR with a simple Google Street View. Observers can literally watching the dopamine flood users’ synapses (and smiles spread from ear-to-ear). This is a powerful prototype example – today – of the power of the Personal Memory Curator.

Potential Beyond Health & Wellness

Just think about the possibilities from a property & casualty insurance perspective. Fire & flood insurance to rebuild the physical space are one thing. But what about the curation of a hallowed space or memory in the wake of catastrophe like a hurricane? You can imagine the conversation with the agent about the rider in the policy now: “For $4 more, would you like to add the services of a Personal Memory Curator? At what price, peace of mind?”

In our job description for the Personal Memory Curator role, we said it would also entail the following:

You will generate and manage the advance memory statement, and work with a team of researchers to blend content from personal data feeds and image banks to beta-test experiences agreeable to the client. You will then create a specification for the virtual reality team to architect and create the sets, mood, historical time, etc. Successful candidates will also work with customer stakeholders to take into consideration “active” or “passive” character interactions within the experience.

By extrapolating out skills needed for Personal Memory Curators, you start to see instances where they could be applied everywhere, and not just Puerto Rico (as beneficial as they would surely be there). Consider the concomitant devastation of the Caribbean Islands in 2017, or Houston, TX, or firestorm ravaged Santa Rosa, CA, the recent natural gas explosions north of Boston – or even refugees from Syria – the list starts to grow longer and longer. You can now – sadly – also add parts of the Carolinas to the list following the destruction wreaked by Hurricane Florence. And not to mention those that may still be seeking recovery from over ten years ago in New Orleans (to the extent that the preexisting, requisite digital “source code” from photographs actually exists; sadly, chances are that this hurricane may have come too early to capture digitally on a smart phone.)

For when you do this, the power of the Personal Memory Curator really crystallizes. In an era where natural occurrences are ever-more prevalent – it’s an idea whose time (in times gone by) has come.

Marta Michelle is the founder of Buena Gente, a leading performance-driving consulting firm that specializes in enabling individuals and organizations to achieve greater success by optimizing productivity and improving competitive advantage through emotional intelligence. Additionally, she founded AccessLatina, the first multi-market accelerator for Latina entrepreneurs to enable their economic potential, and is a Mentor at the Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative. She completed her doctoral studies in Clinical Psychology, concluded an Executive Program of Social Impact Strategy at the University of Pennsylvania and is also a Presidential Leadership Scholar.


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