VR & Ethics

When you are sitting in the room next to a woman calling 911 after hearing gunshots, will it stay with you as if it really happened or will it be forgotten like so many gunshots you’ve heard on television screens?

How real is virtual reality (VR) or at least how real does the brain think it is?

There are today far more questions than answers to the growing world of virtual reality. On any number of platforms you can easily download intense immersive experiences from horror to simulated sports, to all manner of global excursions.

There is much for neurologists, scientists and others to investigate as the 3D world infiltrates our day-to-day lives.

But does our brain reflect differently when in the midst Until Dawn: The Rush of Blood, a popular PlayStation horror experience, than watching it on the big or small screen? The marketing video is scary enough with monsters and strange lands, call me a coward, but I have yet been able to find out for myself. I leave horror VR for others to enjoy.

There is much for neurologists, scientists and others to investigate as the 3D world infiltrates our day to day.

But researchers are beginning to take a hard look. Most recently, philosopher’s Michael Madary and Thomas Metzinger of Germany’s Joahannes Gutenberg University of Mainz published what they call the first code of ethics for research and consumer use of VR. They layout a framework to begin the process of researching and developing, what they call “illusions of embodiment,” that have potentially profound effects on the user and potentially our humanity in the way we understand and connect with people and the world around us.

This will not be the first inquiry and shouldn’t be, and it will grow from the many decades now of research on non-immersive games and other content that affects our perceptions. The depth of considerations revolves around the idea that VR sits closer in our brains to memory than any other visual technology.

What will that mean? Like many things in these evolving technologies, it’s far too early to say. This is critically important inquiry.

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