So, I was reading transhumanist websites again (for one who disagrees with quite a few of the basic premises of transhumanism, I sure spend a lot of time reading about them) and I found a very nice interview with Jaron Lanier
, a famous VR researcher.
The interview is, I think, well worth reading; but here I would like to focus on one idea that he mentioned and that I personally find very intriguing.
people who are tinkerers ought to be able to find a fascination in tinkering with such things as aesthetics and communications, which are the most intense things to tinker with, after all. Because if we tinker with anything else, we’ll destroy ourselves. My notion is that people are somewhat dangerous to their own survival because we’re too creative. The metaphor I sometimes use is that people on planet earth are like a bunch of really technically bright teenagers without any supervision hanging out all summer in a chemistry lab[laughter].
I like to think of VR as an alternative way of thinking about a ramp of technological progress in the future where instead of making bigger and faster things, you make more intense experiences and more interesting forms of human connection. And if you think of that ramp, which is more of a Mc Luhanesque
ramp than an Edward Teller ramp, that alternative ramp is the one that we can survive with. So in that sense, all this business about aesthetics and communications is a survival strategy. I really think it’s the only imaginable future.
In brief, he is arguing that a move towards Virtual Reality and simulations could be a nice safeguard against human-generated catastrophes (let's say, nanodisasters or military conflicts with apocalypse-grade weaponry or so on). If people generally interact and experiment in virtual worlds rather than in the real one, he suggests, any hypothetical disaster would be in principle recoverable, and none would cause huge losses in human life.
Plus — and he does not say that, but it seems a natural consequence to me — a VR-based world would allow a more efficient use of resources: building a beautiful mansion or growing fine wine requires a serious expenditure of material, space and resources, but a simulated mansion or a simulation of a fine wine would probably be far, far cheaper to produce. Virtual Reality could give us a life of incredible luxury, and
it could help with our ecological problems at the same time.
Obviously, fully immersive and convincing simulations are still beyond our technological means; but, I think, not nearly as beyond as some other hypothetical technological developments: as a moderate techno-optimist, I'd guess that it will take at most 15 years to develop something like that, and I agree with Lanier that current VR technology has already far more potential than people generally think.
What do you think?
edited 24th May '12 6:42:37 AM by Carciofus