Risks - Virtual Reality

Study Guide

  1. What is VR and its Applications?

  2. Webster's definition of virtual reality is "an artificial environment which is experienced through sensory stimuli  provided by a computer and in which one's actions partially determine what happens in the environment."  From this definition VR can be anything from cockpit simulations for training pilots to video games.  In Joan Hamilton's article, Virtual Reality: How a Computer-Generated World Could Change the Real World, she discusses some practical uses of VR in the military.  For education, VR is used to train people how to use tanks and fly planes without wasting money for damage done by poor pilots.  VR can be used in schools to allow students to tour simulated museums from all around the globe or take them through a car manufacture's assembly line.  For entertainment, VR has been used for games to allow people to interact together in a generated environment.  These games range from boxing with a friend to playing massive multiplayer games with people from all over the world.

  3. Ethical Issues of VR

Even though VR can be used for all these "good" things mentioned above, it can be harmful to society if VR is not carefully used.  In Richard Epstien's playElderCare VR, he raises some very important issues about the use of VR.  The play is about an old man that is barely clinging on to life.  He is on life support at a hospital.  The hospital has VR technology to allow the patient to experience memory's and emotions from the past.  In this man's case, he is with his wife discussing why he is not close with one of his sons.  He has two sons, twins, one good and one evil.  The evil son in this play happens to be the one that operates the VR machine and he allows his father to experience things in VR to make his brother look like the evil one.  In the end, the father is tricked into rewriting his will, among other deceptions, and giving all his money to the evil son.  Now, even though, VR technology is not as advanced as described in this play, this technology has to be carefully studied as we continue to research it, just like with any new technology and society has to prevent this technology from being abused by "evil" people to take advantage of others.  

Another issue is how do people act when they are in a virtual reality?  Are one's ethical values in "real" life suppose to transfer to the alternate reality?  When people are playing video games with others are they allowed to be manipulative, deceitful, or just plain mean to others.  Maybe it is okay if they can distinct reality from the unreal, but this idea of being something that you are not can lead to other things, like virtual sex for example.  Also, if a man and a woman are having "cyber sex" together and one of them is a man, does that mean that they are gay?  Movies like Lawn Mower Man, also brought up the idea of uses drugs to enhance the virtual experience.  Obviously, this is not the way this technology should be represented.

VR is a technology that can have harmful effects on society.  Only through new laws an measures will it be used efficiently. 

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