Convening Leaders to Employ Virtual Reality Empathy Machines

Author: David McMillin       

empathy machine

An attendee experiences the power of virtual reality. Participants at Convening Leaders in Pittsburgh will see life from a different perspective via VR empathy machines.

Virtual reality is transforming media, entertainment, and a range of other industries — including events. The technology will be employed at Convening Leaders in Pittsburgh to enable event organizers and suppliers to experience its power to change their perspectives. From Jan. 6–9, three different experiences will come to life, turning VR headsets into what some tech enthusiasts call empathy machines.

These experiences, sponsored by IMEX, have been designed by a group of researchers at Stanford University and Columbia University. The VR experiences document life through the lens of a black male at different points in his life, the path to becoming homeless through the eyes of a former middle-class individual, and the ecological problems facing the planet through a deep dive into the ocean off the coast of Italy.

“PCMA is built on the foundation that business events can drive economic and social progress,” said Carrie Johnson, senior director, education, PCMA. “These immersive experiences will help each participant better understand some of the critical issues facing the world, and they can help awaken a sense of what each of us can do to develop solutions for those challenges.”

Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of Stanford University’s Human Interaction Lab and author of Experience on Demand: What Virtual Reality Is, How It Works, and What It Can Do, has already seen the potential of VR in other studies. For example, people who watched “Becoming Homeless” in VR developed longer-lasting compassion for the homeless population than those who read a script of the VR experience.

“Experiences are what define us as humans,” Bailenson said, “so it’s not surprising that an intense experience in VR is more impactful than imagining something.”

Convening Leaders participants will help contribute to the ongoing research efforts. Academics from Stanford will be on site to gauge reactions and collect data to expand their work to harness VR’s empathetic capabilities. When participants remove those VR headsets, they will be able to continue discussions in education sessions that will tackle big issues such as how the events industry can combat human trafficking, advance underrepresented groups, and embrace diversity and inclusion.

“The Convening Leaders content committee has outlined content that reflects how far we’ve come as an industry,” Johnson said, “but also how far we can continue to go to create face-to-face experiences that empower attendees to shape the future.”

To see the entire program schedule and learn more about what’s happening in Pittsburgh, visit

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