Technological advancements have made it possible to create a reality that has been only a sci-fi concept several years ago. Virtual reality (VR) is a computer-generated technology that allows the user to interact with a three-dimensional image or environment using special electronic equipment, such as a headset with a screen inside or gloves with sensors (“Pros and Cons of Virtual Reality”).
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The only concept of VR has taken the entire world by storm, evoking a huge interest from academia, industry, and ordinary people. As a cutting-edge technology, VR can be applied massively for both educational and recreational purposes.
However, considering the ambivalent impact of the Internet and smart devices on people, with the proliferation of the virtual environment, it becomes important to study the effects that it has on one’s perception of reality. This essay will boost the development of virtual reality; however, it will stress persistently on the importance of raising awareness among users about its potential harms.
The Practical Uses of Virtual Reality and the Potential Benefits of VR
Architectural / Engineering Design Space
VR technology has advanced significantly in the past few years, and in no other industry is this more relevant than in architecture and engineering. There are many benefits of incorporating the virtual environment in architectural practices. One of the most obvious advantages is the ease of design and rearrangement of the elements in the design. Using the VR technology will allow a client to fully interact with the proposed design and give straightforward feedback on it.
As the clients have a spatial understanding of the project on every stage of the design process, this will help reduce time on meetings and the use of lateral design revisions (O’Connell). Since the construction may be simulated in VR, construction processes may be perfected for maximum efficiency and a minimum change within a virtual space (“Virtual Reality in Construction”). Therefore, converting 3D projects into immersive virtual environments is a significant advantage for architects and engineers.
Virtual reality makes it possible to simulate complicated, costly, and dangerous activities in a safe and highly effective way. It allows a number of complex scenarios in a safe environment to be virtually constructed to enhance learning through repetition. In particular, VR aviation simulators are the real tools that have been designed for training pilots (Adams). The virtual environment is just like the full-size cockpit with the instrument panel that is as true to life as possible.
The user wears gloves with three sensors on each hand and gets immersed in the flight simulation. There are also simulators for medical practice through which students and surgeons can improve their psychomotor skills, instrument handling, and confidence. Surgery simulators are used worldwide by training centers and institutes for students practice and validation. Using trauma simulators, students may practice the skills of emergency medical assistance.
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Comparing emergency medical training in physical reality and virtual, there are clear benefits to virtual reality. Firstly, the environment created by virtual reality is safe and has no risk. Secondly, the experience of VR is psychological, similar to the one in physical reality.
Thirdly, flight, surgery, and trauma simulators are cost- and time-effective as they can be used remotely. Fourthly, as the VR simulators have elements of gaming and competition, the process of using them becomes even more interesting, which may improve one’s retention and recall. Fifthly, taking into account that VR may produce various situations, including those that rarely occur in everyday life, this technology is beneficial for different learning styles. Finally, the VR environment is innovative and enjoyable and has all potential to become an educational standard.
Classroom and Conference Simulators
VR classrooms have everything needed to create awe-inspiring learning opportunities for students. In particular, Google Expeditions enable teachers to bring children on virtual trips to museums, art galleries, and even outer space to enjoy 3600 panoramas and 3D effect in precise detail. Just as VR can bring users across the world, it can also be used to reproduce some historical events. Virtual technology may be used in teaching the basics of biology, algebra, and visualizing inter-spatial geometry.
Using VR simulations and interactive games allows for incorporating a practical approach to science education (Hand). It also should be mentioned that the virtual environment may serve as an assistive technology for students with disabilities, as it may minimize the impact of disabilities. Therefore, VR is a groundbreaking technology that helps raise engagement and increase knowledge retention.
VR may render location irrelevant, so one should only wear a headset to make a person face to face. This may be of particular importance in enterprise and business settings as it enables us to quickly share the information allowing colleagues to meet and converse in VR without leaving their place. There are software applications that create social-virtual space where people can collaborate and communicate in one room. VR may even help cost-effectively host business conferences or conventions, with attendees getting all the advantages of social interaction and making connections to other people. The virtual environment of the conference may be customized according to one’s preferences.
The Potential Ethical Hazards of VR
Great attention has been paid to exciting possibilities that the VR technology may offer. However, less attention is devoted to novel ethical issues, the risks, and dangers that may arise from research and personal use of VR. According to Michael et al., immersive VR presents new and dramatic ways of disrupting our relationship to the natural world that can lead to issues of privacy, harassment, and scenarios we only begin to imagine. Currently, there are several ethical issues related to human behavior concerning the use of the virtual environment that should be addressed.
The perception of VR is inextricably linked with a massive clunky helmet that covers the eyes and the ears to provide an individual with an immersive experience. In some applications, in particular, simulators, VR gloves with sensors are also used alongside other attachments. Even though it may be excitingly entertaining and realistic, one may argue that if a person has restricted access to the real world (cannot sense what is going around), this may have negative outcomes.
For example, a home accident might happen or an invasion of a robber. There have been cases when people got so into VR that they destroyed their real-world homes. In particular, people were so distracted that they punched a wall or toppled a glass during intense quests (Joyce). Therefore, virtual boundary systems should be considered as necessary tools for designating a safe place in a room where a person gets into VR.
Another potential hazard of VR is that it may increase the level of social isolation. When a person is immersed in the VR, a user’s experience is limited to a single field-of-vision that excludes other people from participation in the process. Excessive use of VR may negatively impact one’s contact with the outside world and lead to neglecting real-world social connections. However, there is another point of view on this issue, suggesting that VR may help users meet and interact in a virtual social environment (McEvoy). This feature may be successfully utilized by introverts, and lonely people, as well as help, reduce the social isolation of the elderly people.
Concerns have been raised about the possible relation between VR and desensitization. In particular, this refers to VR games with high levels of scenes of killing. Being regularly immersed in an environment full of violence may lead to one’s desensitization. It is well-acknowledged that VR technologies are commonly employed to emotionally harden people against phobias and military combat (McEvoy). On the other hand, when used by average users, VR technology may reduce the level of affection by scenes of violence. This, in turn, may lead to a decrease in emotional sensitivity and feelings of guilt and compassion.
Overestimation of Abilities
People who are addicted to VR games may blur the boundary between the virtual world and reality. This leads to overestimating users’ ability to perform virtual feats in real life. In particular, this refers to children and teenagers who start to think that their physical abilities and competencies in parkour, roofing, flying a plane, or driving a car will transfer to a real-world environment. According to the study conducted by the academicians of Stanford University, children cannot tell the difference between feats of their game character and their own ones (Bailey & Bailenson 108). Difficulties regarding return to the real world may damage the social relationships and one’s perception of his or her real abilities.
If not treated properly, the overestimation of abilities may lead to psychiatric issues resulting in a user believing that his or her physical body is an avatar. One should also mention that immersing in VR may uncover psychiatric vulnerabilities in some people and even be a reason for mental episodes. It is also possible that a user may have post-traumatic stress disorder in real life caused by VR games with a high level of violence. Unpalatable Fantasies
The porn industry is predicted to be the third-largest VR sector by 2025 (McEvoy). The number of adults viewing VR content on the Pornhub website has doubled since 2016. Even though this does not pose any ethical hazard, there is a concern that perverse fantasies, including aggressive and pedophilic content, maybe immersive. One may also suppose that excessive exposure to pornography may influence harmful behavior toward women.
Torture / Virtual Criminality
The issue of managing the execution of crimes in the virtual environment is curious, though it has yet to be resolved. VR games like Grand Theft Auto enable users to kill or cause pain to other participants of the game. The question is whether the traumatized person may suffer mental distress due to the actions of the other user and if he or she should be held responsible for that. This speaks to the importance of understanding the status of damage, pain, trauma, or murder caused in a hyper-realistic environment.
VR is expected to be an exceptionally successful and powerful tool in advertising products. The point is, this technology gives commercial advertisers an additional environment to manipulate consumers and even control their behavior. That is why one may note that new tactics of influencing a consumer involving product placement and even subliminal advertising are now being developed. Therefore, people should be cautious about the psychological effects of VR.
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Appropriate Roaming and Re-creation
VR technology may help people explore the world from the comfort of their homes, introducing them to new locations. Of course, it is an exciting experience for people who might otherwise never have the possibility to travel. But the question is whether it is ethical to allow people to visit holy places or wander through someone’s private home. One may argue that the ethical parameters of this potential opportunity have yet to be clarified.
Privacy and Data
The immersion into the virtual environment may lead to greater privacy worries and fear of identity theft. Taking into account that users’ avatars are reflections of their behavior in the real world, the unique movement signatures may be tracked and exploited by other people. Therefore, it should be clarified who is responsible for data collection and privacy of users and whether the data may be given to advertisers.
To sum up, VR technologies open a vast space of improvement of society, whether it be training autopilots and surgeons or creating inspiring learning opportunities for students. However, it is important to be aware of potential ethical harms and psychological effects that may arise from the use of VR, in particular, health risks, social isolation, privacy issues. Therefore, this space of technological progress has to be constrained in a critical, rational, and evidence-based manner.
Adams, Eric. “VR Pilot Training Now Comes With a Sense of Touch.” Wired, Conde Nast. 2018. Web.
Bailey, Jakki O, and Jeremy N. Bailenson. “Considering Virtual Reality in Children’s Lives.” Journal of Children and Media, vol. 11, no. 1. 2017, pp. 107–113. Web.
Hand, Bob. “10 Practical Uses of VR in the Classroom.” Whooo’s Reading Blog. 2018. Web.
Joyce, Kevin. “Accidents and Injuries in VR – The Best & Worst of the VRFocus Team.” VRFocus, 2018. Web.
McEvoy, Fiona J. “10 Ethical Concerns That Will Shape the VR Industry.” VentureBeat, VentureBeat. 2018. Web.
Michael, et al. “Real Virtuality: A Code of Ethical Conduct. Recommendations for Good Scientific Practice and the Consumers of VR-Technology.” Frontiers, Frontiers. 2016. Web.
O’Connell, Kim. “4 Tips for Using Virtual Reality (VR) in Architecture | Redshift.” Redshift by Autodesk, Redshift EN. 2016. Web.
“Pros and Cons of Virtual Reality.” National Youth Tech Journal, 2018. Web.
“Virtual Reality in Construction.” Virtual Reality Society. 2017. Web.