Why Virtual Reality is a threat to humanity
Have you seen those videos from Magic Leap? They’re pretty game changing. Not only is it better than any virtual reality solution you’ve ever seen, it’s actually augmented reality. Projecting virtual elements into your very real world. Imagine climbing everest in your backyard, swimming with dolphins in your pool, meeting your favourite movie star in your bedroom, well… you get the idea. The possibilities are in fact limitless.
So what’s the problem? This all sounds very harmless, and pretty damn fun, right? Wrong. DEAD WRONG.
Life isn’t just fun & games
I played video games throughout my entire youth. From Sega Megadrive to early PC games that came on floppy disks, to assembling and overclocking my own computer hardware to maximize frame rates for online Counter-Strike tournaments. During my peak before starting university, I would spend all my waking hours inside this virtual community. I went deep, bro…
Dr. Lee Jae-Won, a neuropsychiatrist at Gangnam Eulji Hospital in Seoul, told Shea that online gaming accounts for roughly 90% of addiction cases in South Korea.
This is happening in Korea in a massive scale. Gaming is a national pastime, and gaming sports, or eSports as they call it, is being shown on live TV. Tournaments fill entire stadiums. Kids dream of being professional gamers when they grow up, spending 80 hours or more per week practicing.
I know about that addiction. Gaming was my life. I preferred the virtual environment to the real one. I had status. I was part of an elite group. Really the only reason I stopped was 12 months of mandatory military service in Finland. Turns out real guns were the perfect antidote to virtual guns. Kapow!
Where is everybody?
Okay so games are bad for you and your kids. Got it. How does this go from teenage boys in Korea skipping a few showers to a global pandemic threatening our very existence?
Well, think about it. If entire nations can become slaves to a simple screen and keyboard, what happens if you can literally live any life you choose in the comfort of your own home? Why go to the movies, when you could be riding a werewolf into battle against Orcs. Why go to the gym, when you can have the body you want by putting on a pair of goggles, and be capable of any impossible physical feat. Why would you invest time getting friends, when you can literally hop on to your couch with the cast of Friends. Why get humiliated dating when you can flip a switch to meet Ms. or Mr. Perfect. That’s the promise of Virtual Reality. Where does it end, really?
It ends with the Fermi Paradox. In 1950, famed physicist Enrico Fermi posed a simple question at the end of a conversation about intelligent life. Where is everybody? The Drake Equation famously calculates that the universe should in fact be abundant in intelligent life. Even if the odds for intelligent life emerging were practically non-existant, the scale of our universe makes it not only a certainty, but actually rather common. There are 100 billion planets just in our home galaxy, and well, there are at least 150 billion galaxies that we can see. That’s a lot of chances for life to happen.
According to the equation and our knowledge today, a sceptical estimate would calculate there is just one intelligent, communicating species in our galaxy. That’s us, check! Outside of our galaxy, in the universe that we can see with telescopes? 78… wait for it… BILLION! Yes 78 billion intelligent species that could communicate with us! They should literally be buzzing around Hubble like flies. Hotlines at S.E.T.I. should be on queue. So where the heck are the green men?
There are many theories why there are no signs whatsoever of any life anywhere to be seen, but the one that really gets me is this one…
Humanity in a hard-drive
This theory states that as civilisations become advanced and discover new technologies, they eventually come to a crossroads. They either continue to be inquisitive about their role in the stars and push outwards, or slowly lose interest in the outside and turn to isolation. Importantly, it is assumed much more likely that advanced forms of media and entertainment such as virtual reality are discovered first, before interstellar space flight becomes possible. Slowly, entertainment becomes the primary drivers and motivation for the entire species. Eyes turn from the oceans and heavens to our smartphones. Look around. That’s us!
On the Kardashev scale, which is a measure of technological advancement for civilisations, humans aren’t even Type 1 which is harnessing the power of our closest star. We’re just toying with solar energy today. Right now, people are more interested in the Kardashian scale!
Did you know NASA budgets peaked before the moon landing? Yes, before. The last time a human was on the moon was 1972. That’s 44 years ago for heaven’s sake! People are more excited about the upcoming Game of Thrones Season 6 than the Journey To Mars. Yes, we’re going to Mars. That’s happening!
Today, video games are the fastest growing form of entertainment. Apple and Google are the biggest companies in the world. Spending on mobile games has skyrocketed. You can stream content from HBO or Netflix on the bus or in the bed. Our lives rotate around Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. Virtual Reality is just the next step. We are a society that is turning inwards, focusing on entertaining ourselves, and forgetting our true nature as explorers and adventurers.
How do we avoid a fate, where we eventually decide to abandon this weary, fleshy existence altogether, and just upload ourselves into a virtual existence in ones and zeroes? How do we avoid humanity in a hard-drive?
Be like Elon
The solution is to be human, emphatically. Meet new people. Travel places. Put down your smartphone. Stop reading this damn post. Delete Candy Crush. Admire sunsets. Gaze upon the stars!
The solution is to keep exploring, physically and mentally. Keep imagining a brighter future, where anything is possible, for real. Then making it happen, like we always have. Pushing the limits of humanity, and taking us further as a species. Eventually, pushing beyond our planet to reach for the stars. Elon Musk has stated he wants to die on Mars. Be like Elon.
What would that be like? Can you imagine? Yes, there’s that movie about Mars. It was filmed in Budapest, Hungary. Well, here’s what a sunset actually looks like on Mars. We did that. We sent a robot 225 million kilometres to take that picture. You’re up next.
Choose life. Don’t just download it.