WHAT IS ‘BAD’ IN VIRTUAL REALITY? Ethics & Morality in Our Brave New World
Malia Probst
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I’ve had some interest and/or involvement in Virtual Reality since the VR 1.0 era of the early 90s, or earlier. Until recently I was a co-organizer of Silicon Valley’s Augmented World Expo (the world’s largest AR/VR event of any kind), I was the first non-Japanese employee of Tokyo based augmented reality startup, Telepathy, as well as a Kickstarter funder of Oculus.

All of the concerns you raise are real. They are also the same concerns that have been acknowledged literally for decades. Nothing revelatory here.

Wish to explore the worst-case-scenario of a VR future? Read Dani and Eytan Kollin’s Prometheus Award winning science fiction novel, The Unincorporated Man, which delves deeply into the dystopian side of what a worst-case VR immersed lifestyle could become (Disclosure: The name of the character, Commander Grayson, in the sequel, The Unincorporated Woman, is not coincidental.).

But again, mass media have hardly ignored the issue, to the contrary, the negative side of Virtual Reality has completely dominated the discourse, since forever. Name a movie about Virtual Reality and you’ll find a dystopian shock horror. Ever seen Brainstorm? Natalie Wood’s last movie, with Christopher Walken (1983). In one scene VR is used for government torture that puts the worst water-boarding to shame, another character in his 60s has a heart attack while having intense Virtual Reality sex. Videodrome (also 1983)? How about Lawnmower Man (1992)? Dreamscape (used to assasinate the President inside a virtual world)? Strange Days (1995)? Using VR to act out rape and murder for a thrill. And then we have The Matrix.

Has pop-culture EVER portrayed Virtual Reality in anything but the most negative light? Usually culminating in the death, doom and destruction of the entire human race. You genuinely think there has not been enough focus on the negative possibilities of VR? This dead horse has been reanimated for another flogging?

The reality about Virtual Reality is that, much like the Internet itself, it reflects all the perils of real world reality. Expect it to remain protected content, expect there to be abuses … but also, expect Virtual Reality to become the great equalizer — the tool to break down the walls of elitism, and bring Ivy League education to the masses of the world, for free. It will enable us to inhabit Virtual Worlds that will grow larger than our own terrestrial based reality, explore the physics of the impossible from the inside in real-time, provide the physically disabled with empowered lives and freedom of movement, more real than their real lives. Everything in life is a mixed bag. Expect VR to be no different.