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The age of virtual reality has finally arrived, part III

How can VR possibly be a full, rich experience in an unhealthy body?

Breakthroughs in VR and Augmented Reality (AR) have been made possible by continued advancements in Artificial Intelligence (AI). —Check out our previous articles on AI.

VR’s physical challenges

VR environments are already sight and sound immersive (perhaps eventually for other senses, as well). This has created vision problems for some, including eyestrain, as well as disorientation, motion sickness and nausea. Consequently, frequent breaks are recommended along with avoiding driving, etc., until one fully recovers from a VR experience. –Added to this is the ‘elephant in the room’–the fact that so many of us are already spending far too much time in front of screens. How can VR possibly be a full, rich experience in an unhealthy body?

Social isolation

People wearing VR headsets look ridiculous because they’re literally ‘out of it.’ Not only are they oblivious to the real world, but they’re also socially isolated and absurdly helpless looking.

In a screen-besieged world, we’re already struggling to stay focused on and get the attention of family and friends we’re physically with. Among the strongest correlates of health is having a strong social support network.

Recent research underscores that real-time physical contact with others, even so-called low-value interactions, measurably improve overall mental and physical well-being. By contrast, online contact is less salutogenic, and even harmful when excessive (as with people who spend too much time on FB). People who become addicted to VR will risk a dangerous level of social isolation.

isolation

Potential neurological deficits

Along with a potential for social isolation and addiction, what of the long-term effects of VR on the brain? The CEO of Google affiliate, Magic Leap, expressed his concern last year that 3D headsets can cause temporary and permanent neurologic deficits.

“Our philosophy as a company and my personal view is to ‘leave no footprints’ in the brain. The brain is very neuroplastic – and there is no doubt that near-eye stereoscopic 3D systems have the potential to cause neurologic change.”

If standard screen video games are already being used by terrorist groups to train recruits, what will be the effect when completely immersive violent games make participants feel they are actually murdering others in simulated attacks? The same can be said for VR pornography. –How will such things change how we interact in real life and function as a society?

As more senses (touch, smell, and taste) are added to the VR experience, we face the still more daunting prospect of navigating an entirely new level of human consciousness and experience.

In Part IV of this series, I’ll focus on VR’s upside: its educational, medical and ‘infotainment’ applications, including sports, movies and, of course, video games. In Part V, I’ll discuss speculation on what scientists envision the far future of VR.

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