Does “No Mean No” in Virtual Reality?

Virtual reality is becoming more and more prominent,

and with that comes a new virtual world. I can even walk into Appalachian State University’s library and test out some great VR headsets for free.

As the technology improves, the VR world is appearing more realistic each day. But in order to truly trick our brains into believing in this virtual world, we will need other senses to be simulated. While it is relatively easy to add sound, touch would add an incredibly realistic element.

Imagine being able to feel the grass in a field against your legs, the wind in the air, or reaching out to hold the hand of the person you’re walking with. Although this would all be artificial feelings, in combination with the sight of the virtual world, it would be incredibly convincing to our brains that we were actually experiencing these things.

Perceptual psychology has taught us that our brain can fill in missing information from our senses through patterns.  However, the patterns have issues, and they are issues that we can take advantage of.  To add the sense of touch to virtual reality, we wouldn’t need to add the exact feelings,  but instead add feelings that are consistently inaccurate.  If the feelings all follow a similar pattern, and there are no extreme outliers, our brain will be fooled to fill in the rest of the information for us.

Essentially, if the entire virtual world is all the same level of incorrect, our brain will perceive it all to be correct, therefor truly taking us into he virtual world.

Issues arrive with this however, when the person you were holding hands with in the virtual field is actually Presidential Candidate Donald Trump, who decides to “grab a pu**y” and virtually rapes you.

When our brain is tricked to believe that this a real world, there must be some rules and laws in that world to protect the users.  Especially when people aren’t who they are in real life.  We have seen the issues with child predators and other criminals hiding behind the anonymity of the internet.

Now, imagine a free world where these people could disguise themselves as anyone they wanted to be in any situation.  While this technology could be incredible for the good people in the world, it also opens up an entire new world of problems.

Zoltan Istvan, a Transhumanist U.S. presidential candidate summed this up perfectly for Australian publication, Vertigo:

“We’re approaching an age when we’re going to be rewriting a huge amount of the rules of what it means to either harm somebody, or hurt somebody, or even scare them or bother them. Clearly the controls, the security systems and the anti-hacking software will have to be much better.”

I wish we could all explore the virtual world safely without rules and regulation, but as the technology becomes more realistic, that’s simply not possible.



**featured image owned and copyrighted by Marina Noordegraaf under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.


New World Ethics

Do you ever feel like you’re being watched?

With the recent advancements in wearable technology, users can gather more and more information about themselves and the world around them.  From Go-Pro’s to Google Glass, users can collect, photos, video, audio, location and health information.

Sometime this information is locally stored, but many devices are connected to bluetooth, wifi or cellular data, and many must be linked to accounts like Google.

A lot of information is stored online to increase user satisfaction. For example, FitBit stores it’s users information on the cloud so that they can access it on their phone or desktop.  FitBit makes it clear in their terms and conditions that they do not sell or distribute personally identifiable information (PII), except under “limited circumstances.”

Although this sounds great, I dug a little further, and in the fine print, it explains that your PII can be disclosed to others in a “sale of assets.”  So if the company is struggling, FitBit can sell your email, address, name and other information and just send you a notification.

Thankfully, FitBit just has basic information like that. While it could sell access to your google account, and potentially any information stored there, this is small stakes compared to what other private information could be made public.

What about when wearable technology records high quality audio and video? This potentially leaves users vulnerable to be tracked or watched by the company, anyone they “sell assets” to, or potential hackers and hactivists.

This also puts the people around the user at risk of being recorded or tracked without their consent. As wearable tech becomes more common and less noticeable, it will become essentially invisible. Whether in public or private spaces, anyone wearing glasses or a watch could be a spy.

Even more nerve-wracking is that they could be spying on you without knowing.  A hacker could watch some through their (or their family’s) wearable technology. Not only is this invading their privacy, but could prove dangerous and encourage assault, rape or murder.

There are plus sides though.  We’ve recently seen some success in requiring police officers to wear body cameras.  Wearable tech like this would give video evidence in court for many committed crimes.  It would help record everything from traffic accidents to murder, and to convict criminals properly.

Government’s access to these video’s would have to be restricted however.  In the first Presidential debate of 2016, when asked about Homeland Security, Hillary Clinton responded that she thinks “we’ve got to have an intelligence surge, where we are looking for every scrap of information.”

If the government is shifting towards an intelligence surge, and the potential to watch and listen through google glass is available, suddenly the Big Brother scenario becomes bigger, scarier, and more invisible. While I would love to have a recording of all the fleeting moments of my life, I can live without it if Big Brother can watch me get ready for class everyday.

**The featured image is owned and copyrighted by Minecraftpsyco under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.