Trend Update // Dutch Design Week

The Digital Shaman Project

The past few weeks our team researched five trends to present on the Dutch Design Week. One of these trends is Stretching Boundaries. Stretching boundaries is about pushing boundaries, the way topics can be viewed and talked about. Sensitive subjects are quickly avoided because they are seen as a taboo or people might get offended. Stretching boundaries shows a change in perspective of how we can talk about complicated subjects and shows that humans feel the need to talk about these topics.

One of the many things humans don’t feel comfortable with is talking about death. There is one thing certain about a human beings life and that’s the inevitable fact that one day, we’re all going to die and have to leave everything we love and fear behind. This, death, is still a hard topic to talk about, same for grieving. Humans often struggle with the passing of their loved ones and the process that follows after. This, death, is still a hard topic to talk about, same for grieving.

Etsuko Ichihara’s project “The Digital Shaman Project” tries to ease the grieving process using robots that are wearing 3D-printed faces of your loved ones that passed away. The robots are programmed to imitate a specific person’s speech, behavior and physical characteristics. The idea behind this project is to propose a new form of funeral in which robots spend 49 days after a person’s death with the members of his or her family. After 49 days, the robot says goodbye to the family members and close friends and thereby closes the grieving period. These 49 days refer to the Buddhist funeral rite. Buddhists believe in reincarnation and this process needs 49 days to travel from one life to the next.

In the Western world, we might not all believe in reincarnation, some of us don’t believe in an afterlife at all. Looking at the Netherlands, humans who passed away are usually buried within seven days to prevent decomposition. Each religion and culture has different ways in saying goodbye and grieving. Digital Shaman Project opens the discussion about that and whether technology is going to change these rituals we know nowadays. Ichihara created a futuristic way of saying goodbye to your loved ones. The only question is: Is it ethical to manipulate the dead by using robots to imitate them?

Design: Etsuko Ichihara

Seen at: Dutch Design Week, Veem, Level 7 If you’d like to know more about Digital Shaman Project, check out her ted talk!

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