Is It Really So Bad If We Prefer Virtual Reality to Reality?

As I’ve been developing this series, I’ve gotten to spend time with people who are working on the coolest innovations in virtual reality. Surprisingly, whether they’re the CEO of a haptics company or an academic researcher, one topic consistently comes up in conversation: What will happen when the technology has evolved to the point that people actually prefer virtual experiences to real ones?

This question has captured the imagination of science fiction writers for generations. But it was a question that only science fiction writers needed to worry about, since it was technologically unfeasible. In the internet age, however, we already choose virtual experiences over “real” ones on a regular basis. We do it every time we choose to post on a friend’s Facebook wall instead of meeting them at a coffee house.

VR changes things considerably not only because is it immersive, but it also simulates the feeling of physical presence; and that’s likely to be much more addictive than simply staring at a computer screen.

Even at this early stage of the consumer industry, the technology already exists to give people full body immersive experiences and social interaction. Couple HTC’s Vive rig and AltSpace‘s social environments or High Fidelity’s facial motion detection and social interaction  with hand tracking devices like Perception Neuron’s gloves or Leap Motion, and you can already get pretty close to a feeling of full physical immersion. Even though these innovations are in the early stages of development, it’s easy to see their potential.

In the near future, we could experience incredible worlds which can only be built and experienced in virtual reality — worlds much more vast and diverse than what we are able to experience in our daily lives today. Like how the internet has made us feel closer and more connected, virtual experiences have the potential to elevate our collective consciousness even more by allowing people access to experiences that are currently not possible. We might even begin to think of access to virtual experiences as a human right, the way we think of access to the internet today.

So the question is, would it be so bad if we chose to spend our days in virtual worlds fulfilling our deepest desires and weirdest fantasies? Where do we draw the line on too much virtual and not enough reality?

What’s the big philosophical question about VR on your mind lately? Tweet to us @singularityhub or to me directly @svm118 so we can explore your questions as part of the series.

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Sveta McShane
Sveta McShane
Sveta writes about the intersection of biology and technology (and occasionally other things). She also enjoys long walks on the beach, being underwater and climbing rocks. You can follow her @svm118.
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