Virtual reality is “an artificial environment which is experienced through sensory stimuli (such as sights and sounds) provided by a computer”. It is basically a 3D (three-dimensional) environment, generated artificially, by a computer. The artificial environment can be explored, and also interacted with, by a person using the VR (virtual reality) technology. It is also important to mention that the given environment can be similar to the real world but it can also be completely different.
As for now, standard virtual reality systems are using usual virtual reality equipment to generate realistic sensations (images, sounds, etc.) – either the VR headsets or a multi-projected environment. The person who is using the equipment can, while using it, look around the artificial environment/world, explore it, move around and even interact with what is presented.
Virtual reality is mostly applied in education and for education purposes (medical training and military service/training) and even more in entertainment industry where it is highly used for gaming.
Since I found the given questions about VR very interesting, in this essay I will answer them. The questions are: How mainstream is this technology really going to be? Will VR really be about more than games? Can our bodies and minds really cope with VR? Is VR another means of state surveillance? What are ethical dilemmas of virtual reality?
Virtual reality has been around for a while and a lot of people are claiming that it is going to be an important part of our lives in the future but is it really going to go that far? Is VR technology really going to be that mainstream? Despite current virtual reality technology being heavily used in entertainment and education, I don’t think that VR is going to become mainstream that soon. It is a great concept, but also a pricey one. It costs to develop the technology even further and it costs to bring it to people (as well as for people to buy and implement it, because not everyone can afford such kind of technology). It could become mainstream, it has a high potential, but it will sure take some time to do so.
VR will be about more than just games and I do firmly believe so. It started with entertainment and games but with technology being developed more and more each day, it will go even further. VR can be developed to be used on various platforms for many other kinds of experiences which could, in a way, improve our everyday lives. It could be used for music, sports, further development of education and training, and even some kind of ‘transportation’. Ever wanted to visit Paris, for example? Just put a headset (or whichever kind of technology VR will be using) and voila – you’re there, in just a matter of a second!
However, as great as it all might seem, VR raises some serious questions, especially about things like our well-being, safety, privacy and such.
Firstly, are our bodies and minds actually able to cope with virtual reality? What does the technology do to human body? Some of the issues and problems it causes include eyestrain, headaches, nausea, motion sickness and disorientation. It is inevitable for user to experience such symptoms after using the headset, especially if he/she does not take a break at least every 30 minutes. With the technology developing, one must think about what happens when/if it is fully developed and how will it affect us, humans? The technology could develop such far to take human consciousness to an alternative level. It could cause some serious neurological changes and, therefore, change the way people interact and even function as a whole, as a society. Secondly, what about privacy? Is VR just another mean of state surveillance and someone ‘spying’ on us? VR has a possibility (no matter how far in the future will that happen) to move and grow from being used mainly for gaming, to become a technology we all be using in our everyday lives. By becoming so implemented, I believe that the technology and platforms are going to collect enormous amount of data about us, our lives and preferences. We are already heavily ‘spying’ on by surveillance cameras (on traffic lights, in stores, banks, shops, etc.), mobile biometric devices, facial recognition software and many more such technologies. With implementing VR technology, it will all get on a whole new level because people behind it will be able to monitor and track every single aspect and part of our VR experience, and essentially life. Last, but not least – ethics. What are the ethical dilemmas of the technology? There are actually quite a few ethical dilemmas of virtual reality technology, such as: health and sensory vulnerability, isolation, privacy, desensitization, crime, and much more. As mentioned before, the equipment and technology do cause some symptoms (nausea, headaches) and in the worst case, could even cause some neurological issues. All of that gets even worse in case when personal is using the virtual reality equipment and technology while alone because if he/she starts to experience really bad symptoms, the person may not be able to call for help. It leaves people vulnerable to accidents. Isolation, desensitization and crime could possibly be connected and go together. The whole experience of virtual reality is basically one person using a headset and excluding other people from physically participating (unlike when, for example, two friends are playing PlayStation together and both being physically and mentally present in real world). When person is introverted, this is just making it worse because that person is probably not going to work on their issues and socialization. Moreover, when such person (or actually any other, but such people are a bit more ‘vulnerable’) decides to repeatedly play violent video games and watch violent content, it could possibly lead to them become desensitized, meaning that a person is left basically unaffected by the violence and, therefore, potentially become danger to themselves and everyone around them, which essentially leads to possibly committing a real-life crime.
Just as it is for AI and all the similar technologies, the same goes for virtual reality – it has a lot of benefits and could (when fully developed) be integrated in our everyday lives, and for somethings it definitely should, but there are also some issues around it that should be worked on and we should be really careful about it to not use it against ourselves.