VR and Ethics

This is an article on The Ethics of Virtual Reality from 1992. It covers the main problematics of the concept in philosophy and ethics. It elaborates on the cultural and technical dimension of VR and introduces various points of view. A short quote:

“Virtual reality therefore has the effect of reality upon us, though we recognise that it is not properly real. VR is best described as a simulation, as opposed to a representation (Baudrillard, 1983). If I make a model of something, say a chair, then my model is a representation if I never lose my belief that it is the original chair that is the real object. On the other hand, if I make a model of something, say the surface of the moon, and in navigating the imaginary terrain I come to believe that the model is real, then I am in a simulation. The term “virtual reality” is a precise expression of this latter concept for we are, at the same time, admitting the fact that we have created a model (which is unreal) and admitting that we are treating it as reality.

The significant point about this definition is that VR is essentially subjective. VR is an experience and not a piece of technology. I can curl up with a good novel and claim to be in virtual reality, whilst I can don the most expensive headset and data glove yet remain perfectly aware of the fakeness of what I observe. This is important because it follows from this definition that many symbolic structures in society can be viewed as “virtual reality” (for example, cases where a computer model of an organisation does not reflect the underlying reality). We must therefore understand virtual reality as being the expression of a deep philosophical problem caused by our commitment to symbolic structures whose existence now obscures the reality of the underlying object.”



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