Science fiction novels and films have warned us of the potential dangers of technological advancements and artificial intelligence and, in many cases, have specified virtual reality technology.
A first-hand experience at The Void, a “hyper-reality” experience in Lindon, is nothing short of surreal.
The Void combines virtual reality technology with a fully mapped physical environment, meaning that not only do you see and hear the experience, you feel it too.
For example, in the Ghostbusters Dimension experience, the green “Slimer” ghost flies through guests and actually gets them wet. Guests can stand on the outside edge of a skyscraper and feel the wind blowing on their faces and attempt to balance while walking on a rickety scaffold.
“I was very impressed with how you’re able to get a feel for everything around you,” said Jason Garcia, a retired firefighter and guest at The Void. “It’s pretty amazing. Even the air conditioning was blowing (like the wind).”
Commenting on whether this kind of technology could be dangerous, he said, “I don’t see how. I actually see it as kind of an amazing outlet to open people’s eyes to new experiences. I’m a retired firefighter, and I could potentially see different scenarios where you could put military, police and firefighters into this kind of experience and (help) understand how to process and get through those situations.”
Ryan and Malinda Merrill and their twin sons, Porter and Tate, also experienced The Void and shared their thoughts. All of them thoroughly enjoyed the experience and commented on how strange it was to receive tactile feedback from a video game.
“It was amazing to be able to walk around and touch the wall, sit down in the chair, touch a vertical stabilizer on that platform,” Ryan Merrill said.
As to the potential positives of this technology, he said, “I think it could be a fantastic training tool for law enforcement and first responders. I’m on the skyscraper, and there are people all over, and they’re bleeding. I think the possibilities are endless, really.”
Malinda Merrill suggested driver’s education and noted that her sons are approaching that age.
As to whether it’s potentially dangerous, Porter Merrill offered a flat “No.” Ryan Merrill said, “Maybe if you had heart conditions. Walking out on a balcony could freak some people out, but overall I don’t think so.”
Eric Swedin, a Weber State professor who specializes in the history of science and technology, isn’t so sure, however.
“It is interesting thinking about how VR will change things,” Swedin said. “I immediately think of ‘Wall-E.’ It’s a very interesting film because you get really shocked that people have just become inactive sponges. I think about the future, and what I ask myself is, ‘Where does morality exist?’ For instance, should you feel guilty about what you do in VR? It’s just an imaginary experience, right?”
Some argue that in the past, people would use their imagination for such experiences, and to that Professor Swedin said, “Some people don’t have as good imagination as others, so that doesn’t have the same effect. Should we build things that glorify deviant sexual or social activity? People read novels in which the character is a deviant person, and they find it interesting to interact with them. The same goes for film. But VR has an immediacy that I think we’re going to struggle with as a society. You can shield yourself from things in a book or a film that make you socially or morally uncomfortable. VR is just going to amp that up so that you don’t have a protection mechanism. There will be people who create deviant VR experiences, and society is going to have to struggle with that because reading something, viewing something and experiencing something are all different levels in which our protection mechanisms are gradually eroded away.”
Professor Swedin summarized the possible moral dilemma of virtual reality with this question: “Does a person have to go and confess their sins if it was in virtual reality?”