VIRTUAL REALITY HEAVEN OR HELL?

I have written previously regarding Mark Stephen Meadow’s book “We Robot” (please see http://kevin-morris.co.uk/2011/03/04/interview-with-mark-stephen-meadows-author-of-we-robot/). One of the many subjects addressed by Meadow’s is the increasing use of avitars as a means of interaction in virtual reality and (increasingly as technology becomes ever mor sophisticated) in the real world. The author describes a visit to a Japanese research centre in which he meets the avatar of a Japanese researcher. The avatar has a physical presence (I.E. it is not confined to cyberspace) and it’s eyes follow Meadows around the room making him feel extremely uncomfortable. The scientist explains to Meadow’s that such avitars will become increasingly affordable leading ever greater numbers of people to purchase physical avitars many of which will be custom built to represent the physical look of their owners. Meadow’s speculates that such physical avitars will be increasingly used to represent their owners in remote conferencing and even in situations entailing the firing of employees. He postulates that significant numbers of individuals will use physical avitars to enable them to enjoy experiences such as flying and will come to prefer the virtually limitless possibilities offered by living through their avatar compared with existence in the real world. For example Meadows points to people who after having watched the film Avitar felt withdrawal symptoms due to the fact that they (the film goers) could not fly. Like the film goers ever greater numbers will wish to stay emersed in the world of their avitars.

At first the physical bodies of people will need to be looked after as regards eating, waste disposal etc. However as the technology refines itself individuals may choose to upload (or download depending on your perspective) their consciousness) into their avatar rendering their human (physical) body unnecessary.  The attractions of physical avitars are obvious. One could go deep sea diving without the fear that one might drown and experience the thrill of doing so without the fear of being attacked by sharks. In such a situation the worst that could happen is that your avatar becomes severely damaged or lost while you remain safely ensconced, at home in your arm chair. Again people could live out their erotic fantasies through their avitars without the fear of sexually transmitted diseases and if they believe that their real body is not sufficiently attractive to attract a partner then their physical avatar can be manufactured to look “perfect” thereby enhancing the chances of the user as regards obtaining the girl or man of his/her dreams.

Of course the above would require a highly developed computer-brain interface to ensure the “authenticity” of the experience. Initially this would probably be provided (as at present) via helmets with electrodes implanted in them and, in the longer-term by chips in parts of the body including the brain.

There is an alternative to a world of physical avitars, that of “virtual reality” in which increasingly realistic versions of reality are created, via computers in the absence of physical avitars. For example the sights, sounds, scents and feelings of sex are created via animated persons who have no existence accept as bits of data flying through cyberspace.

The two scenarios are not mutually exclusive. One can imagine a world in which virtual reality coexists with physical avitars and individuals choose, on occasions to take on physical form while at other times choosing to interact via the internet or whatever succeeds it.

I’ve touched above on some of the advantages (real or imaginary) of an enhanced role for avitars but what of the disadvantages. The following thoughts spring to mind:

1.      If one is always successful in one’s virtual existence does not this have the potential to lead to problems in the real world? For instance a man is, through his avatar (or via virtual reality) frequently successful in finding sexual partners, however in the real world he finds it impossible to find a lover. He becomes deeply depressed, spends ever longer interacting via his avatar or in computer generated virtual reality and, eventually suffers a mental breakdown or, alternatively he becomes angry and attacks a woman (in the real world) for not responding to his advances.

2.      Do people really want a roaler coaster life, one in which they move, constantly from one thrilling experience to another? Does there not come a point at which many people will say “been there, done that, got the t-shirt” and yearn for a return to the mundanity of the real world? Might not increasing numbers of people come to see their existence in virtual worlds as “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing?”

3.      A number of advocates for virtual reality see it as immeasurably superior to the real world and, as a consequence anyone who opposes their conception of the coming utopia as at best misguided and, at worst a dangerous fanatic. For example take the statement of Jacob S Cook

“I believe the mind is all that truly matters. The body exists to sustain the mind, but that will not forever be the case. The Phantomat, or holodeck, is the future – a future of limitless possibilities. Why did Stanislaw Lem believe that which does not exist must also not matter? Abstractions such as mathematics, philosophy, and, most important of all, love do not “exist” per se, but where would humanity be without them? Thought drives all, and the physical world is a ghastly constraint from which we will soon be able to break free. The futurists and transhumanists such as myself will lead the charge, forging into the true final frontier – not space (sorry, Jean Luc, old chap!) – but rather the unfathomable depths and chaos of the human mind. Then, slowly, the rest of the free world will see that we brash ones who dove in and resurfaced, if only for a moment, to tell everyone on the shore that the water’s nice and free of sea monsters, made it after all, and are better because of it. We’ll see people of all stations and creeds dipping their toes in tentatively, wade out, and finally join us in total immersion.

The holdouts will be the religious fundamentalists. The peaceful ones, such as the Amish, the Evangelicals, and the Catholics, will be allowed to live out their increasingly limited existences with no animosity against them (just pity). The violent ones (minorly, Christian cultists – Branch Davidian-esque nonsense, and majorly, the entire Islamic axis of evil) will have to be deleted. Directed energy equipped supersoldiers of the united free nations, perhaps along with nuclear fire, will cleanse the threat of obscenely violent and backwards cultures once and for all. The abstraction of national boundaries will become useless, and the only significant tancoms (tangible commodities) will be those necessary to sustain the burgeoning mind realms”, (see http://www.scienceclarified.com/scitech/Virtual-Reality/Which-World-Is-Real-The-Future-of-Virtual-Reality.html).

So “the physical world is a ghastly constraint from which we will soon be able to break free”. Has this gentleman been for a walk in one of the many beautiful places which constitute a “ghastly constraint?” Has he listened to the song of those physical creatures, bird’s, felt the sun upon his face and felt the joy of being alive? It appears not. If we leave the real world behind then does the environment just “go hang” because we have our own wonderful artificial environments in which to live?

The contempt of Jacob for anyone who deigns to question his perspective is frightening. I suppose that we should be grateful that he doesn’t advocate the elimination of everyone who questions his world view! His references to eliminating religious oponents by means of military force and nuclear weapons are worrying in the extreme. Again Transhumanism can to some of it’s adherents at least become a kind of religion as it postulates a utopian existence in which the god of science (although they don’t use that particular term) will solve all human ills and we will all walk into the sunset happily together.

 

So whither humanity? The use of avitars has the potential to allow individuals to have new and exciting experiences. This is to be welcomed but I can not see that such experiences (either via physical avitars or virtual reality) are going to replace the human desire to experience the real world. Why visit a virtual wood when you can go to your local park and feel your feet crunching through the autumn leaves and smell the scents of the vegetation as you stroll along? Perhaps a virtual wood would be of some use to a child growing up in a deprived area with little access to the natural environment, however one would hope that exposure to the virtual woodland would kindle in him or her a desire to experience the sheer joy of walking through a real wood.

People will carry their psychological baggage with them into virtual reality and their avitars will reflect the nature of their master both positively and negatively. A sexual pervert in the real world will take his/her perversion into the virtual environment and unhappiness will not be disipated by being the best looking guy in a virtual pub anymore than it will be solved by being that self-same person in an actual bar.

As in most things in life it is balance which is required. Virtual reality is here to stay and does (as already postulated) have it’s benefits, however it is not a magic bullet which will cure all social ills.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About kevinmorris101

I live and work in London and blog as a hobby. If you would like to contact me please send an email to animalia at shiftmail.com (the address is rendered in this manner in order to try and defeat spammers)!
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4 Responses to VIRTUAL REALITY HEAVEN OR HELL?

  1. Valda.DeDieu says:

    Kevin, it is interesting that you should bring up this point in such a thoughtful, well written post. This is a subject well worth debating and thinking over, and the way I addressed it is in my newest novel for Young Adults…

    In DEATH MISSION: THE RULING CLASS, it is the year 2088. Six teens are making their way across America to retrieve “The Fallen”, a tribe of children, who are somehow the key to America’s future. To do so, they must infiltrate and enter THE DOME, where the elite are stockaded from the rest of the world… (link)
    http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/52858#comment

    Many of the citizens who live inside the Dome live a 24-7 Virtual Reality life, where they work, play, have intimacy and interaction with others ONLY via Virtual Reality… while the world outside has become a kind of obstacle course of horrors…Of course in a world like that, children are not safe. But what lies behind is more evil than anyone can imagine…

    And may I add, that you’ve been an inspiration to me. Therefore one of the characters happens to be a blind young man, named Joshua…

    Sincerely,

    Valda DeDieu

  2. snail1966 says:

    “Do people really want a roaler coaster life, one in which they move, constantly from one thrilling experience to another?”

    Indeed, one can imagine that if desires, hobbies, whatever could be satisfied so easily, the exciting would soon become mundane. After all, “the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing..” The virtual reality dweller may experience a series of “dis-satisaction plateaus” – if you like – and require ever more challenging and unusual experiences to keep playing the game. Of course, virtual scenarios could map the mundane along with the manic, but then who ever participated in Second Life – or watched Eastenders for that matter, to experience the hundrum of daily grind?

    Also, one can imagine that a participant would gain more satisfaction and kudos – even if only self congratulatory – from having had a “real” experience as opposed to a virtual one.

    • Thanks for your comment. “Also, one can imagine that a participant would gain more satisfaction and kudos – even if only self congratulatory – from having had a “real” experience as opposed to a virtual one.” You make a good point here. Given human nature I think a large part of virtual reality will be taken up with providing erotic experiences. I’m sure that such “services” will be popular and that individuals, from all backgrounds will experiment with virtual sex. However most people want a permanent loving relationship so after all the experimentation is over they will want (as at present) to find a partner in the real world. They will want someone with whom they can communicate and be close. No doubt some couples will experiment (either together or as individuals) with virtual sex, however my guess for what it is worth is that deep and meaningful relationships will be conducted (for the most part) off-line although virtual reality does (potentially) offer a huge opportunity for commercial dating services to allow individuals to get together (in virtual reality) before meeting face-to-face.

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