Virtual reality is finally available to the mass market. The Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR are already on the shelves of all consumer electronic stores. You are probably very fascinated if you have ever tried a VR headset. You can think of many different use cases: from gaming to education, a virtual doctor, 3D modeling and more. But there is also a very dark side of VR.
There are already many gamers out there who lose themselves for hours, weeks, and months in a single game. Now imagine if we let people play in a nearly perfect virtual world. Will they ever return and face the real reality? Will we be surrounded by zombies?
That what many VR game studios are working on is a perfect VR experience. Virtual reality cuts people off from the real world and you welcome them to your own artificial world. Now imagine millions of people entering an imaginative world where the rules are written by a small group of programmers. With many advantages and chances of VR, there also comes a dark side. In theory, small teams of developers may create an own world where they can spread propaganda and hate.
With great power comes great responsibility.
Power of a perfect World
Today’s VR headsets are still from the very first generation. Just as the first iPhone was. The VR hardware will become thinner, lighter, and more and more realistic. More sensors will be added so that we can smell, feel, and touch the virtual reality as if it were real. Maybe we will even use VR headsets in combination with brain interfacing technology. What will happen is the following: The VR will sooner or later become indistinguishable to the real world.
The scary thing is the following: With an exponentially improving VR technology, people will not be able to really distinguish between the virtual reality and the real reality. Just type in “Horror VR” or other words in YouTube and have a look how people react today to monsters in a virtual reality. This shows the reaction of people who are testing the first generation headsets or even prototypes of VR headsets. The VR headsets will improve dramatically within the next years.
The question will be whether VR developers create a fair VR world to drive empathy and human connection or if they create a bad VR with hatred, propaganda, and spoofing.
By implementing psychological loop-holes into VR games or worlds, VR developers have the possibility to gain complete control over the VR users. These psychological loop-holes may cause users to become addicted to the virtual reality, to accept and apply rules from the VR to the real world. VR may be used to drive fear and paranoia much easier than other feelings.
It is clear that VR may be used for very bad purposes. The VR developers have a huge responsibility for the content and virtual realities they create.
What do you think, do we need to set ethical or legal boundaries to what VR may be used for?