How interacting with virtual beings powered by Artificial Intelligence can teach us to become better humans.

More businesses across every industry have come to realize that soft skills are far from a “nice to have” and actually essential in order to ensure they have a well-rounded and creative workforce capable of tackling the complex challenges that some with doing business in the digital age. “For organisations, the ability to turn employees into smart, collaborative and self-directed leaders is often the difference between thriving and surviving,” says Christophe Mallet, co-founder of Somewhere Else, a London-based innovation agency specialised in immersive technologies.

In Virtual reality, you can take part in any imaginable simulated social interaction. This is called virtual embodiment. Virtual embodiment promotes implicit learning, which is not only more easily assimilated, but tends to be retained for longer, engendering longer-lasting and more fundamental behavioural change. Studies by the likes of the University of Barcelona or Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab have shown how embodied VR experiences can affect meaningful behavioural change from reducing implicit racism bias, to priming altruistic behavior to making domestic abusers less likely to recidivate.

From a Learning & Development perspective, VR combines the scaling potential of e-learning with the experiential impact of face-to-face training. In other words, VR-based soft skills training effectively enables organisations to deliver workforce behavioural change at scale.

Developed by Somewhere Else, BODYSWAPS is a soft skills training platform powered by AI and Virtual Reality which claims to do just that. The first BODYSWAPS scenario deployed was the ‘David’ Project – a performance management scenario developed with Corporate DNA Consulting, a global leadership firm.

BODYSWAPS works by letting employees practice those skills through acting out a range of high-pressure workplace scenarios with AI-powered virtual humans. You can be a manager giving an employee negative feedback, a CEO pitching an idea to the Board, a young woman in a male-dominated group meeting, etc.

In each scenario, you get to effectively step into a virtual body, which then takes on your own voice and natural body language during the next phase, which involves interaction with virtual characters.

The interesting thing about this format is that it’s not based on binary choice, there are many nuances that force you to think on your feet, says Mallet. The pressure to perform feels very real.

At the end of the experience, you are given – as the name suggests – the chance to experience the whole scenario from the perspective of the person you were just interacting with.

At the end of the experience, you are given – as the name suggests – the chance to experience the whole scenario from the perspective of the person you were just interacting with.

There’s a lot of talk about the experiential value of immersive technologies, but this is something that really brings it home in a very real sense. Swapping bodies with the character you were just having a go at gives managers the chance – in fact forces them to – empathise with their point of view in a way that would have been quite impossible under normal circumstances. The result, believes Mallet, is that it forcefully prompts those in charge to reflect upon how they act and what small adjustments and nuances can make a difference in how the same message is delivered. In other words: the true impact and importance of so-called “soft skills”.