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Virtual Reality and Simulations as a safeguard against catastrophes:

 1 Carciofus, Thu, 24th May '12 4:57:21 AM from Alpha Tucanae I
Is that cake frosting?
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, well destroy ourselves. My notion is that people are somewhat dangerous to their own survival because were 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 its 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

But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.

Space Wizard
There is no perfection, no "paradise".

A virtual world can just as much suffer as the real one. There will be the possibility of virtual catastrophes, of digital or electronic threats.
Programming and surgery have a lot of things in common: Don't start removing colons until you know what you're doing.
 3 Carciofus, Thu, 24th May '12 7:04:16 AM from Alpha Tucanae I
Is that cake frosting?
It would not be perfection, I agree.

But it could still be a marked improvement, perhaps. There would be virtual catastrophes — but there would be backups. They could fail, certainly; but still, even a catastrophic failure would probably not lead to Real Life death.

edited 24th May '12 7:17:53 AM by Carciofus

But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.

 4 Ekuran, Thu, 24th May '12 8:58:31 AM from somewhere. Relationship Status: watch?v=dQw4w9WgXcQ
Hi.
VR would be mildly entertaining, but I'm doubting they would be a safeguard against actual catastrophes, unless the computers housing you are somehow nuke-proof or something.
[Insert seemingly profound or amusing phrase here.]
 5 Carciofus, Thu, 24th May '12 9:41:23 AM from Alpha Tucanae I
Is that cake frosting?
It would not be a perfect solution, no. But I think that it could help avoiding the circumstances in which serious catastrophes might arise. For example, one of the main desires of humankind — and the stimulus for much applied technology — is that of being able to manipulate reality to a very fine and accurate level. But of course, if people have such a technology in Real Life and use it habitually, all sorts of potential problems come up: even modern technology can cause more than a little trouble in the hands of somebody technologically proficient but not risk-aware, and let's not even get started on grey goo scenarios and stuff like that.

Now take a virtual environment (note, I am not talking about uploads here, just about some sort of very accurate sensory simulation). It would allow the user to have a near-infinite ability of manipulating the environment, constrained only by the computational power required; but the scenario catastrophes would simply not happen. If you mess around with, say, fireworks in Real Life and you don't know what you're doing you are liable to hurt yourself and others; but if you mess around with simulated fireworks in a simulated environment, there is no risk whatsoever, and you can make better fireworks.
But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.

 6 Vellup, Thu, 24th May '12 11:17:54 AM from America Relationship Status: The Skitty to my Wailord
I have balls.
Virtual reality is already used to safeguard against catastrophes, though. Pilots for instance, get a lot of practice in using flight simulators, for instance.

For personal enjoyment, however, it's similar to why soybean substitute isn't as popular on the grill as steak. I mean, would you rather watch fireworks on TV, or see them in person? Fish a real tuna, or just catch one in a videogame?

I mean, pilots can practice in those simulators for as long as they want, but in the end, what they're doing is preparing for the real thing. So yeah, we can use simulators to avert catastrophes, but with our current level of technology, they aren't going to take the place of what they're simulating, (at least given that it isn't unreasonably difficult or expensive to engage in the real thing compared to the simulation).

What you could do though, is, as you said, to make better fireworks, which is what video games strive toward these days. Make people able to do things in those simulations that they're never be able to get away with in real life. A lot of what makes a sandbox game fun for many people, is the ability to rampage through town without having to go to jail—or pulling shenangans with Sims, casting magic, easy space travel, etc...
They never travel alone.
 7 lord Gacek, Thu, 24th May '12 11:42:34 AM from Kansas of Europe
KVLFON
Trolling in such virtual world has quite the potential to be magnificent.
"Atheism is the religion whose followers are easiest to troll"
 8 Deboss, Thu, 24th May '12 3:41:50 PM from Awesomeville Texas
I see the Awesomeness.
For student learning, VR wouldn't be a bad thing. But it doesn't constitute actual experiments, since those are designed to test theories on how reality works. Since VR has known rules, it doesn't matter how those experiments turn out, they don't reflect reality unless we've already done the experiments.
 9 Cassie, Fri, 25th May '12 3:41:40 AM from Malaysia, but where?
The armored raven
There's ALREADY Second Life. To me, it has already been failing in that.

It's like a combined Surrogates and GIFT waiting to happen, though that will depend on whether or not mass area networking / mass area VR interlinking is mandatory. If virtual reality is distributed as an individual means of use, it may very well be used as a 'counter-stress doping' which pretty much leads to dependency and at worst, addiction. Video game catharsis has already proven this possible

Simulations are dependant on what have already happened for accurate data and depiction. Yes, in the long run they may be the key to avoiding some human-caused disasters, but we must also not forget the phenomenon of Facebook, where digital socializing can wrought some very haywired results in real life. Even if it's not about simulating friendship, relations and affection, simulating life itself can be a task only possible and available to a rich subscriber in the future
What profit is it to a man, when he gains his money, but loses his internet? Anonymous 16:26 I believe...
 10 Qeise, Fri, 25th May '12 3:50:35 AM from sqrt(-inf)/0 Relationship Status: Waiting for you *wink*
Professional Smartass
In VR you could test new applications for known rules, but not find new ones. Doesn't make it useless for research, it's just a limit.
Laws are made to be broken. You're next, thermodynamics.
 11 Deboss, Fri, 25th May '12 9:04:55 PM from Awesomeville Texas
I see the Awesomeness.
We already have that sort of thing. Finite Element Analysis.
See ALL the stars!
Isn't FEA ludicrously computationally intensive and error-prone?
Da Rules excuse all the inaccuracy in the world. Listen to them, not me.
Virtual reality wouldn't be particularly useful for guarding against catastrophes. After all, we'd still have bodies living in the real world. The computers would be as well. We'd still be killed by the normal things, and our food and water systems, economy and technology wouldn't be any more robust.
 14 Matues, Sat, 26th May '12 3:32:42 PM Relationship Status: Reincarnated romance
[up]

But it would offer people a way to do stupid things without harming themselves.

If someone wants to mess with potentially harmful fireworks, they'd be safer using virtual ones than real ones.
The rain in Spain tend to drain the brain of sane.
 15 Deboss, Sun, 27th May '12 10:28:58 PM from Awesomeville Texas
I see the Awesomeness.
I'm not sure how you'd have a virtual reality without FEA unless you want every object to be Engineering!rigid.
 16 Aceof Spades, Sun, 27th May '12 11:10:24 PM from The Wild Blue Yonder Relationship Status: Yes, I'm alone, but I'm alone and free
Okay, so I can understand how VR would be helpful in human communication. And as part of a training regimen for when we get it to the point that it's very realistic.

But entirely avoiding human disasters? When all the disasters are the cause of many moving parts that can only be recognized by human elements? And are generally caused by shortages of resources, shortsightedness of the people involved, extreme ideologies, leaders having to value their own nation over others because that's who they represent, and various other things? Virtual Reality isn't going to change the nature of actual reality. Sure, you can exercize a bunch of hypotheticals, but in the end the decision you make has to be in real life.

Also, a virtual reality mansion isn't the actual physical object. It doesn't house anyone or anything. While they are ridiculous expensive, people tend to buy mansions so they can live in them. They're giant, expensive houses, and people tend to need houses. You can't live in a virtual, imaginary house. The material cost here is spent on something that most people actually use for something practical. Virtual reality isn't going to change that.

I also fail to see how this prevents governments from ordering huge weapons stockpiles and being paranoid. We're already communicating more than ever and having trouble with that. It's getting better, but that's because we're getting better at communicating and it's getting harder for repressive governments to prevent that. Anything virtual reality stuff contributes to this will simply be part of the trend that is happening right now.

Basically, I see virtual reality being mostly used for entertainment and learning purposes. It's not going to suddenly make things better, or specifically be able to prevent wars all on their own. I'm wondering where you even got that from the quote you provided us.
 17 Carciofus, Sun, 27th May '12 11:33:34 PM from Alpha Tucanae I
Is that cake frosting?
But entirely avoiding human disasters?

Well, not entirely. But it would provide an environment in which human beings could interact with a much reduced risk of lethal consequences.

Look, I am not saying anywhere that VR is going to solve all problems ever and create a perfect golden age; I am saying that it seems to me that it might help reduce significantly certain personal and global risks.

The quote is from the interview I linked, and comes from Jaron Lanier, a rather famous VR researcher.

edited 27th May '12 11:37:30 PM by Carciofus

But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.

 18 Sgt Ricko, Mon, 28th May '12 5:16:35 AM from Guam, USA Relationship Status: Hounds of love are hunting
I don't see it working. If a VR world were to be programmed as some sort of test-bed simulation, it would likely be made with the current understanding we have of the world around us: physics, math, the various sciences. It would also be programmed with all the personal biases and assumptions that the culture of the creators have, meaning that they would believe that phenomenon A happened because of conditions B and C combining. Now what's going to happen if they misunderstood it and failed to recognize that it actually happened because an unknown, condition X, also affected the results? It would render all tests and simulations performed moot and perhaps lead to further incorrect assumptions being made.

That sort of stuff won't happen in the real-world: it is what it is, and with careful enough research you will eventually uncover the truth behind whatever you're working on. Because as far as we know, you can't improperly code the physics of reality, right?
Would you believe I never fully watched the original Indiana Jones trilogy? I gotta correct that someday.
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Total posts: 18
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