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The Mirror that Shows Your Insides

This "digital mirror" is a glimpse of future personalized medical tools.
April 25, 2014, 4:30pm
Image: ©2014 Primary Intimacy of being by des Vues de l'esprit - Le Pixel Blanc

You stand in the dark facing a mirror; before you appears a digitized reflection. As you move, the reflection moves with you. It is you, but as you have never been seen before. Skin removed, the image shows the organs, muscles, and bone structures that lie beneath. It’s an experience that leaves you feeling utterly exposed and redefines what it means to be naked: You are seeing yourself inside-out for the very first time.

This was the reality presented to participants at the trial of an interactive artwork called Primary Intimacy of Being. Developed by Des Vues de l'esprit, headed by Xavier Maître, a medical imaging researcher at the University of Paris South, the mirror makes use of the university's latest technology in imaging and processing. It combines information from a series of PET/ MRI scans and x-rays with Microsoft Kinect motion capture technology to produce a mirror that seems to reflect the individual without skin. It moves with them and appears to be a true reflection.

For now, however, it's not: The image seen in the "digital mirror" is actually based on pre-recorded data of another person of the same gender, programmed to move with the viewer. As reported by New Scientist, it was first exhibited as an artwork at the Museum of Arts and Crafts in Paris last year to raise questions of self-portrayal, and to look at how we learn to relate to our bodies.

But moving on from its artistic roots, a mirror like this could be developed as a personalized medical tool. Every individual could input information from their own set of medical scans, which would be combined with real-time data from biosensors such as heart rate. The result would genuinely allow you to see inside yourself: an inner reflection of organs, muscles, perhaps even a beating heart.


Even at this early stage, the mirror is provoking some strong reactions. Maître told me that those standing in front of the prototype, believing the image to be their own, felt a huge range of emotions. "Some were attracted and seduced, others feared and did not want to see or share such X-ray-, MRI- or PET- augmented inner reflection," he said. "They skipped away."  As people came to witness their "inner reflection," patterns of social behavior started to form. "Male teenagers test the limits of the installation more than female teenagers do, whereas female adults explored more their body," said Maître.

Image: ©2014 Primary Intimacy of being by des Vues de l'esprit - Le Pixel Blanc

These 3D avatars offer a unique philosophical opportunity to explore the human reaction to the 'self.' That's something that will be explored further when the mirror is presented at the Computer-Human Interaction (CHI) conference in Toronto next week, and again at Futur en Seine, Paris.

As for medical implications, Maître explained, "This technology might help [in] developing personalized medicine through interactive medical imaging. Hands free is an important issue in the aseptic environment." It even has the potential to allow doctors to work remotely.

This mirror is just the latest in a growing trend that brings digital technology and medical imaging together in public spaces. Kinect technology is already also used by ModiFace, for instance, in their augmented reality "anti-aging mirror." Meanwhile, Toshiba's concept Smart Mirror, which presents you with information to inform your day ahead and was showcased at CES this year, shows how digital mirrors could one day be in our own homes.

Maître firmly agrees that the technology could one day be widespread. He said that the future will see his mirror "personalized for an individual after a whole-body MRI (or prescribed X-ray CT and PET)."

"Thereof, people could have their own private mirror at their home place so they could check every day their own inner reflection and see themselves from the inside. In the same way we take care of the strand of hair once we spot it in the mirror, we might take care of our inner self," he said.

For better or for worse, we could soon be seeing ourselves in a very new light.