Whether it’s wildfires in California, a hurricane in Puerto Rico or flooding in North Carolina, Florida and Texas, natural disasters are becoming all too common. And beyond the physical and mortal damage –which is substantial – the lingering trauma of mental stress that follows in the wake of these events is a hidden tragedy no less debilitating than the more visible signs of destruction.

What if we could use the latest digital technologies and our thinking around the Future of Work to help with the immense task of helping people put their lives back together after being torn apart by a disaster of some sort? In particular, how can we help recreate some of the treasured memories that are literally blown, blasted or swept away by these devastating storms?

The answer is closer than we may realize.

Transposing Memory Curation

At the recent Aspen Action Summit, I had the chance to meet with Marta Michelle Colón, founder of Buena Gente, a consulting firm that helps clients apply emotional intelligence to optimize their productivity and boost competitive advantage. Marta Michelle, who is also part of the vanguard that’s ensuring emotional health and wellness is an essential part of the reconstruction efforts in Puerto Rico, participated in a panel discussion that 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 Cognizant Center for the Future of Work had originally conceived for pre-onset dementia patients.

Marta Michelle keyed in on whether the same skills of the Personal Memory Curator – that is, using augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR) to recreate experiences that combine physical space and multi-projected environments with realistic images, sounds and other sensations that simulate a person’s presence in a familiar time or environment – could also be used for survivors of tragedies like Hurricane Maria.

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 that occurred just over 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 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 of a VR-enabled Personal Memory Curator helping to 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 grandparents’ or parents’ living room or your own home) have been serially uploaded – perhaps from multiple angles by several family members – into digital photo galleries or social media sites, and now exist – safely – in the cloud? What if you could further use the latest VR technologies to “reskin” a virtually exact replication of the space? And then you could sit in it, hang out there, savor the simulation, and calm your anxieties, even if only for a little while?

Believe it or not, the piece-part technologies to bring this about 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 the ability to upload a group of individual photos or videos from an event or place, and a new tool will use them to automatically create a 3-D 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 the address of the house where they raised their children, and are then transported there in VR with a simple Google Street View. Observers can literally watch 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 and flood insurance to rebuild the physical space is one thing, but what about the curation of a hallowed space or memory in the wake of a 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, we said it would 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, beyond the natural disasters of the last year afflicting the U.S. For when you do, the power of the Personal Memory Curator really crystallizes. In an era when natural disasters are ever more prevalent, it’s an idea whose time (in times gone by) has come.

A version of this blog recently ran on Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work website.

Robert H. Brown

Robert H. Brown

Robert Hoyle Brown is an Associate Vice-President in Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work and drives strategy and market outreach for Cognizant’s Business... Read more