Is the virtual reality dangerous for humanity

Virtual realityWhen it gets dangerous

Computer scientists are not famous for being ethical. You develop software that is good when it runs without errors. The social sciences and philosophy, on the other hand, are predestined to take a critical look at technical developments and to embed them in a social context.

That rarely worked. For example, it was not humanities scholars but computer scientists and hackers who demanded and enforced data protection in Germany.

Humanities scholars hardly comment on current technical developments with major ethical consequences, such as autonomous driving.

It is all the more astonishing that two philosophers doing research at the University of Mainz are now grappling with the glasses that are making the rounds at CeBit and will be launched on a large scale this year. They reflect a virtual world to those who wear them. The glasses track the posture and eye movement of their owner with gravity and acceleration sensors as well as by scanning the pupils and adapt the 3D world and the artificial sound in it accordingly.

"You literally immerse yourself in this computer-generated world. But more importantly: You merge with this world and there take possession of a body that is not your own, and you control this avatar through virtual reality.

When you look around, move your eyes, your body, the system gives you other perspectives. This technique works so precisely that you really think you're someone else somewhere else. "

Virtual worlds as an object of research

Doctor Michael Madary has been working in Mainz for five years in an EU project called VERE, which aims to investigate the effects of robotics and virtual worlds on our society. Together with his colleague Professor Thomas Metzinger, he has now published a discussion paper on the problem of VR technology. VR is the abbreviation for Virtual Reality. The thesis tries to make a risk assessment based mainly on psychological studies.

"The interesting question is what happens when you emerge from virtual reality after a while and have to put down the figure you were there? Even the first studies on virtual reality suggest that a short stay in these worlds is sustainable can affect the psyche. "

Virtual reality for everyone

VR systems were expensive. Now, around 20 years after the first prototypes, they are coming to the market at low cost. A Korean company advertises virtual reality glasses directly with its new smartphone. You put your glasses on the screen, look inside - and you are in a different, very realistic-looking world.

There you can look for treasures, get medical advice, meet other people or their avatars and, for example, stroke them. The software and thus the applications for this technology are only at the beginning. The possibilities are not foreseeable.

"With this technology, people will spend as much time immersed in the virtual world as they want. One of our most important demands is therefore to investigate the effects of such long stays on the psyche."

The two philosophers' paper does not go any further. Thomas Metzinger, who is known in the scene for his controversial theses of several "selves" that man invents, is very reluctant to work, even though the virtual reality of the computer literally pours grist on the mill for the philosophy of mind: Who am i when i play? And who do I play when I reappear from virtual reality?

Even the final chapter, which comes from applied philosophy, is little more than the demand for an ethical code for VR applications. Michael Madary is most specific with a medical aspect:

"Virtual reality technology offers great opportunities for psychiatric applications. We have to be aware that these have been experiments so far and that patients shouldn't be blinded by the highly developed technology. Just because it is new doesn't have to be." be better."

Continuation of computer games

The greatest weakness of the work lies somewhere completely different, namely in the technical-historical selectivity. The philosophers seem to have overlooked the fact that VR glasses do not represent a new quality, but only consistently continue what computer games began 30 years ago.

Of course, the player in a classic first-person shooter slips into the skin of his hero on the PC or console, sweats and panics when he runs out of ammunition. And like after reading an exciting book, after a few hours of shooting, he will not simply switch to the family, cooking, tidying up. That takes time, the more time the deeper the immersion was. No study could prove psychological damage, at best the vague diagnosis of gambling addiction in some.

Virtual patterns in reality

Even closeness to reality is not a criterion for the strength of immersion: The game Tetris from the 1980s is an example of this: abstract blocks whose rearrangement has made an entire generation of Gameboy players addicted. Studies have shown how these patterns continue in everyday life, sometimes oppressive, sometimes enriching. The best players in flight simulators on the PC are sought-after candidates for pilot training by airlines.