I found this article the other day and found it interesting. On a few different posts I have talked about computer simulations and virtual reality. It appears we are getting closer.
This idea has always fascinated me and if you read the article at the end the author says how a few different aspects of our daily life could change due to this new technology. First off, I will say that I think everyone overreacts when something like this is catches on. Oculus has been around for a while but just in the past year or so gained a lot of notoriety after being bought by Facebook in March. They have resurrected the VR technology. I can briefly remember in the mid to 90’s when this technology first came out or was mentioned. I can remember playing a video game at an arcade were you put on the head set and controlled the man with two joy sticks. It was a cool gimmick and it cost like $2 to play the game, that was absurd for an arcade game at the time. There was a lot of buzz about how in the near future we would have this or that and all this cool stuff, well as I am sure you are aware it never happened. I am not sure why, although I am willing to be that the technology did not exist to take it to the next level. So now close to 20 years later this is back in the news and everyone is saying the same things they did so long ago.
Now I am sure this time around the technology probably exists to make some of these ideas a reality, but I am still skeptical. For me it is always, THIS (whatever the new and exciting technology) is going to change things, our lives will never be the same again. Rarely does this new tech ever really change our lives, and even more rarely does it do it in a way that we predicted. Never in a million years did the inventor of the cell phone think that that device could have the potential to replace the personal computer. My point is that the mobile phone has evolved into something else, a whole new monster that, in my mind, no one could really see coming. But if you look back at the evolution of the technology it mostly makes sense as to how we got to where we are today.
I think it is way too early to tell how Oculus is going to change everything, or anything for that matter, but I am a skeptic. For fun let’s play the game I suppose. Let’s say that this is the beginning of a real game changer. At the end of the article he talks about different things that he thinks Oculus will have a dramatic impact on in our lives, everything from videogames to education to sex (yep that’s right how crazy would that be to put on a headset and in a matter of minutes be noodling around with your favorite celebrity in virtual reality). If you start to think about all the things this technology could change you really get into some harry and philosophically trying situations.
For instance let’s say that a program is created where you can go up in the Eiffel Tower in virtual reality. I have been to Paris but I did not got up in the tower because the line was ridiculous and I did not want to wait in it. So lest say that you can purchase the Eiffel Tower experience for $50 as opposed to spending thousands to be there in person. The VR tech has reached the pinnacle where your brain cannot discern that it was not real, only the individual knows that they did not actually set foot in Paris. So are both experiences real? I think some would argue yes, while I think I would lean towards no, but if the VR was so lifelike that the individual could not tell if was real or fake then I would not really be able to make a statement on the experience. I would think that regardless of how a third party viewed the situation it could be real to the individual, as most Solophists believe. (They basically think that the outside world and other minds may not exist outside one’s own mind, so in other words what you think about my experience does not matter and following that belief may not even exist.) See how quickly this new technology can become a nightmare for many philosophical arguments.
Then there is always the question of what if, or when, this technology becomes so powerful that one can simply put on the goggles and enter a whole new world or simulation where maybe they are someone cool, someone with power, someone important. At the end of the day why would that person leave the VR world, and come back to their “real” life where they are Joe Nobody who works as ABC Corporation in a cubical all day? I think it would be tough to return to the “real” world every day. I think at first your brain would be there reminding you that the VR world was not real, but I think that the more time you spent in the world your mind would start to become confused as to what was real. You could see how this could easily become a slippery slope. There could be a point in the future where people get so engrained in the VR world that they don’t want to leave because they believe it is real. Technically they would be correct as no one else’s opinion would matter, and if their mind believed it was real then who is to argue with that. I also think it would be near impossible to convince someone otherwise. Try to convince someone that one of their best or most fun or intimate memories does not exist and was not real, good luck with that!
All this sounds fine and good and as cool as I think it would be for this to happen, I think we are many years away from anything like this. Not only that but as I mentioned this technology could have repercussions that we could never imagine. The evolution of technology is always a tricky thing to try and predict, with that being said I also think there is a great deal of overreaction right now with Oculus. I guess we will all see what the future holds one way or the other…