Immersive virtual reality technology, once a concept limited to science-fiction, has made great strides in recent years. This technology may one day be “the next big thing” in areas like entertainment, education, and even healthcare.
As with all new technology, there is almost as much potential for harm as there is for growth. But is the potential for harm enough to outweigh the benefits?
Haptic technology, which allows users to feel physical sensations based on haptic feedback, and virtual reality headsets like the Occulus Rift are on their way to creating a truly immersive virtual environment, in which users can see, hear, and feel virtual experiences.
Many a gamer is delighted at the idea of being so completely a part of their favorite games. This technology may also allow one day allow human interaction in virtual reality. This would enable us to spend time with each other across long-distances, opening up new avenues of communication. It has the potential to aid long-distance relationships and long-distance education.
It will allow people to feel close to each other in a way that messaging and video calls simply can’t. Virtual reality will open up new avenues of human communication and bring us all closer together.
But as with any technology, virtual reality can be abused. In one article from the International Business Times, transhumanists outline the ethical dilemmas that could arise from haptic technology.
For example, the use of haptic body suits or implants that create real sensations from virtual information could possibly pave the way for a new form of violence- virtual reality rape. In theory, a criminal could tap into these systems and force other users to feel and do things in the virtual world.
Part of what makes this so dangerous is that the law struggles to keep up with this futuristic technology. Would a virtual rapist be subject to the same punishment as a rapist “in real life?” Sadly, even victims of rape “in real life” often never see justice, and forming a case against a virtual rapist would likely be even harder.
Does this mean we should discredit virtual reality technology altogether? No- the benefits are simply too large to be overlooked. Along with aiding in entertainment, education, and communication, virtual reality can also help safely train military operatives. It can aid in therapy for PTSD and other mental illnesses. It can help scientists and researchers make new discoveries.
We cannot lose all of these benefits because we are afraid of the risks. What we can do is be cautious.
We can make sure our VR systems have the best security possible. We can help our legal system catch up by pushing for laws that protect VR users and punish VR criminals.
If we remain cautious, sensible, and diligent when dealing with virtual reality technology, we can reap the benefits and minimize the risk.