Published on July 28th, 2021 | by Emergent Enterprise0
5 Problems And Solutions Of Adopting Extended Reality Technologies Like VR And AR
As AR/VR/XR begins to reach more people, some “big picture questions” need to be asked. As Bernard Marr points out in this post at Fortune, questions about legal definitions, moral and ethical issues, personal security and more are top of mind. As developers make new “realities,” who makes the rules for these realities? Who defines what type of data can be collected? It’s a digital wild, wild west and it seems there are no laws and no sheriffs. Tech companies and consumers have asked these types of questions before as we embraced the internet and mobile devices and there is no doubt we will build standards for XR as well. It may be clumsy, it will have its share of mistakes but there will be progress and improvements. However it plays out, it shouldn’t slow down or stop innovation. There will be bad actors no matter what but the white hats will ultimately win the day.
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Extended reality (XR) technologies, like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), bring many benefits to us as consumers, and to the industries that adopt them. But we can’t ignore the fact that there are many personal and societal risks that come with XR, particularly at the more immersive end of the spectrum (i.e. VR).
In this article, I address five of the biggest concerns around XR, and outline a safer, more ethical way forward for the technology.
1. Legal concerns
As with any technology that advances faster than legal systems can cope with, regulators and lawmakers are left playing catchup. XR is no exception. As a result, we don’t have clear laws on what’s acceptable and unacceptable in virtual environments – or even which jurisdictions those environments come under.
One of the biggest unanswered questions for me is, can a virtual act be a crime? Say two people are immersed in a virtual environment, and one of them assaults the other in that virtual space. Is that a crime? If we consider video games – where many people enjoy beating up or shooting our fellow gamers – the question seems a bit ridiculous. But XR technologies create a much more immersive experience than the average video game. In our hypothetical virtual situation, the assault might seem very real to the victim. Is it a crime then? What if our two hypothetical people are wearing haptic suits, which allow users to feel realistic sensations that are generated in the virtual world? This could potentially make the assault genuinely traumatic.
2. Moral questions
This conundrum on what should and shouldn’t be allowed in a virtual environment isn’t just a legal question. It’s a moral issue, too. The danger with immersive technologies is they can allow people to act out whatever they want, seemingly without any real-world consequences. Some might say this is fairly harmless, but this crossing of moral boundaries (boundaries that exist in the real world) certainly makes me uncomfortable.
Consider this example: with the way XR technology and accessories are advancing, it will be theoretically possible for someone to render a highly realistic avatar of their neighbor or colleague or friend and then have sex with them in a virtual setting. Should that be allowed? It’s immoral, sure. But is it wrong to commit immoral acts purely in a virtual world? In my view, if something isn’t allowed in the real world (like having sex with someone without their knowledge), it shouldn’t be allowed in the virtual world.
3. Access for the few, not the many
There’s also the possibility that XR technologies will widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots. The cost of purchasing XR hardware will obviously exclude many people, potentially exacerbating existing social divisions. One of the things I talk about in my book is how XR has the potential to revolutionize learning and provide enriching educational experiences for children. But if these opportunities aren’t available to all, we risk creating even more elitist education systems.