Get real: where will virtual reality take us?Sunday 23 October, 10.00 - 11.30 , Frobisher Auditorium 1 Technology and ethics
Virtual reality has hit the headlines in 2016 - from veteran broadcaster John Humphry taking to the stage with pop group Kasabian at the Brixton Academy while sitting in the BBC Today programme studio to doctors in Torbay gaining insight into what it’s like to be a patient. With the UK consumer launch of the Oculus Rift headset and lower-spec ‘immersion’ kits such as Google’s Cardboard making a mark, it seems as if VR is coming of age. The potential is immense, from training medics in surgery to designing transport systems. Uses of VR in the entertainment industry range from gaming to virtual reality cinemas – Europe’s first opened in Amsterdam in March – to putting sports fans right in the middle of the action, such as the NBA’s virtual reality streaming of basketball games. Investment in VR and augmented reality is reported to have reached $1billion in the first two months of 2016 alone.
So the virtual future is bright? Some are not so sure. A team of German researchers has outlined the potential psychological manipulation inherent in VR’s immersive experience as, well as the risks posed by violent pornography and the ability to ‘virtually’ torture other users. They called for a code of conduct that would place restrictions on the way avatars are used. Concerns have also been raised that VR cameras could be placed in war zones, giving viewers the ability to voyeuristically immerse themselves in violence. One of the biggest fears about VR is that it will sever real social connections. There are fears we will see a new and more entrenched generation of what are known in Japan as ‘Hikikomori’, people, particularly young men, who withdraw from real social interaction to indulge in fantasy games. Could the dystopian disconnection from material, social and political reality depicted in sci-fi tales like Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One and EM Forster’s ‘The Machine Stops’ become a reality in our lifetime?
How do we begin to address both the huge potential and real fears about VR? Should codes of conduct and regulations already be in place? Are fears about the psychological impact of immersion borne out in the experience we have already of gaming and the Hikikomori? Or are these fears over-stated by conservative commentators? By trying to control and limit user and developer activity in VR do we risk curtailing the very creativity and imagination that could feedback into the ‘real’ world and have positive benefits?
technology editor, New Scientist
innovation consultant, PwC
research director, Centre for the Analysis of Social Media, Demos
principal human factors consultant, Transport Systems Catapult
student; contributor to spiked
researcher in film, Queen Mary University of London; education advisor
Oculus Rift – 10 reasons why all eyes are back on virtual reality, Stuart Dredge, Guardian, March 2014
The Good and the Bad of Escaping to Virtual Reality, Monica Kim, The Atlantic, February 2015
Mark Zuckerberg Says It Will Take 10 Years for Virtual Reality to Reach Mass Market, Tom Simonite, MIT Technology Review, February 2016
The New Recluse: Hikikomori in the age of Virtual Reality, ealeyodaly, socialvr, April 2016
Gaming in Virtual Reality Could Be the Very Real Death of You, Alex Tisdale, VICE, June 2016
Virtual Reality headsets propel future of remote working, David M Williams, iTWire, June 2016
Could new virtual reality technology worsen the problem of social withdrawal?, David McNeill, The Irish Times, June 2016