If an AI Told You To Drive off a Cliff, Would You?

I’m in a self-driving car jamming to some sweet elevator tunes when an AI asks me what I would like to do next:

  • Option 1: Hit a semi-truck that’s about to cut me off
  • Option 2: Drive off a cliff to avoid the collision
  • Option 3: Swerve into a group of kids chasing their dog across the road.

Not exactly the “choose your own adventure” story I was expecting. And while the VR creation Cardboard Crash takes place in an animated neighborhood made out of cardboard, its playful ambiance barely takes the edge off my least favorite activity: making decisions.

Empathy is a big buzz word you’ll hear from journalists and creators as they scramble to find the best ways to use VR to bring global events closer to home.

And while there is a lot we are all still learning about the best way to inspire emotion, there are a few ideas from this experience that are worth pointing out.

Making It Personal

By asking viewers to play an active role in the story, Cardboard Crash immediately makes the situation personal, giving users a chance to evaluate their current state of emotion.

The Emblematic Group’s immersive journalism piece Use of Force is another great case study for the same idea.

Based on real events, Use of Force is a digital recreation of a man being beaten to death by the US Border Patrol accompanied by actual audio recordings taken at the scene of the crime. As the scene unfolds, viewers are able walk around with a camera and record the scene as evidence.

Responsibility triggers an alertness to a situation that might otherwise be lost by audiences passively viewing their surroundings.

Both of these pieces, remind us that in order for someone to be fully invested in what they are experiencing, they have to play an active role in the story.

Measuring the Impact of a Story

Cardboard Crash was built to track behavior. As it plays out, viewers are asked to make the same decision twice; the first time with only a gut reaction and the second time after being given predictive data that an AI would have.


Behavioral analytics can be pulled to show how decisions vary based on the changing variables. But what’s more interesting than tracking a user’s behavior is being able to track a change of their beliefs.

Before the credits role, Cardboard Crash ends with a  poll about the ethics of artificial intelligence algorithms, something you might have previously dismissed as irrelevant before rolling off a cliff to your death.

This idea of using VR to track personal paradigm shifts is something I’m hoping we see more of as creators find ways to develop this technology as an advocacy tool for change.

Finding a Real World Use for the Technology

Cardboard Crash’s creator Vincent McCurley hopes to continue experimenting with this technology and eventually incorporate it in college classrooms studying policy ethics. His goal is to help students realize how personal decision making can be. Great news for heavy-eyed freshmen currently being plagued by traditional lectures.

And as enthusiasts like McCurley continue to experiment in VR, it will be interesting to see how they work toward strengthening one of our bigger faults as a humans: putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes.

Cardboard Crash was created by the NFB Digital Studio and Vincent McCurely. It was produced by the National Film Board of Canada and made its big debut at the Sundance Film Festival in January. You can see this VR film straight from your phone by downloading it from iTunes and viewing in either a GearVR, Google Cardboard or View-Master VR headset.

Image Credits: NFB

About the Scout

Carly Chevalier

Carly is an Editor and the unofficial guinea pig of most experiments at VRScout. Follow her on Twitter @thecarlybird or say hello in natural reality.

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