The debate has been going on for years, declined from time to time depending on the emerging technology: offer a mass market experiences that were hitherto the prerogative of a small number of rich is a good or a bad thing? Already Second Life has given millions of users the opportunity to immerse themselves in a virtual environment where owning villas and yachts, participate in “exclusive” parties and fashion shows, is extremely cheap, but there was always in the middle the screen of a computer. Now the technology seems poised to deliver devices that will make imperceptible the difference between “real” reality and virtual reality and many return to fear the risk of ending up creating a situation similar to the one described in The matrix.
Virtual reality: for Nozick, experience is not enough
Simulating a reality usually accessible to a few could become the new opium for the people? Opinions differ. Philosopher Robert Nozick, already in 1974 hypothesized an “experience machine” able to simulate a virtual reality and had then askedm: if it existed “will we stay connected to this machine a lifetime, pre–planning our experiences?” The answer for Nozick was negative,if only because “Plugging into an experience machine limits us to a man-made reality”, since “there is no actual contact with any deeper reality, though the experience of it can be simulated”. Perhaps, he conclued, “what we desire is to live (an active verb) ourselves, in contact with reality. (And this, machines cannot do for us)”.
Corporations seem to like virtual reality
42 years later, many of the largest and most powerful corporations in the world as Sony, Google, Facebook or Microsoft, are investing billions of dollars to try to create virtual reality devices for the mass market, clearly convinced that the public does not wait but to connect to them. In fact, at least in some areas of the world, such as Asia, millions of players spend many hours online everyday “immersed” in videogames and virtual worlds like Word of Warcraft, Eve Online or Second Life, while entrepreneurs from Philip Rosedale to Luckey Palmer they are trying to achieve the vision suggested by the novelist Neal Stephenson in the novel Snow Crash, of 1992, in which around an American now controlled by large corporations, there is a “metaverse”, a 3D virtual reality shared on a worldwide fiber optic network where each user is represented by his/her own avatar, a parallel to the real world but that is able to interact with it in ways and for very specific purposes.
A new (virtual) colonialism?
However the idea of resorting to massive virtual reality devices still does not convince those who seek to build a better world in the realities of the of everyday life. Offer internet connections and virtual reality devices to the mass poor of the world is likely to be a new and more subtle form of colonialism, which is likely to generate reactions, once the initial excitement and illusions connected to it no longer exist. In an interview with Wagner James Au, John Carmack, author and programmer of video game graphics engine (as Doom, Quake and Rage),since August 2013 Chief technology officer of Oculus Rift, sustains, however, that those arguments are misleading.
Carmack (Oculus Rift): unfounded fears
“If someone wanted nothing more in life than to read books -explains Carmack – providing them with a massive library is not doing them a disservice, even if that means that they are less likely to be involved in other activities”. “If people are having a virtually happy life, they are having a happy life. Period”. Fears about virtual reality would in fact destined to fade, somewhat as it happened with cinema and television according to the expert, whom perhaps has a “biased” view. What do you think, the virtual reality fascinates you, scare you or leave you indifferent? If you want to stay informed, keep following Mondivirtuali.it, even through our account on Twitter and our fanpage on Facebook (but remember: Mondivirtuali is also on Flickr, on Pinterest, on Scoop.it e su Paper.li and also on Youtube).