Leading tech thinkers and consultants are asking if social and personal interaction should be policed in virtual reality (VR), with some calling for a digital citizenship deal.
Concerns about how social codes and morals may no longer hold in virtual reality worlds, where the participants are physically immersed in digital scenarios – where they can move, touch, hear, see and even smell – have been heightened with the launch last month of the Facebook-owned Oculus Rift VR headset in the UK. Fears about violent pornography, the ability to virtually ‘torture’ others and the severing of social ties in the ‘real’ world have all been voiced.
Gathering at Europe’s premier festival of debate and discussion, the Battle of Ideas festival at London’s Barbican on 23 October, a group of technology leaders, including consultants, researchers and tech editors, will debate with the general public the risks of virtual reality and what can be done to regulate behaviour in VR worlds at the discussion Get Real: Where Will Virtual Reality Take Us?
Some debate panellists have already spoken out, with Carl Miller, research director Demos’ Centre for the Analysis of Social Media, calling for a “new concept: digital citizenship”, emphasising that “we need to equip people with the moral, as well as technical, know-how to make sure we’re building digital worlds that we actually want to live in.”
Festival director and author of I Find That Offensive, Claire Fox said:
“We are delighted to have this timely debate on virtual reality as part of the Battle of Ideas line-up. Over the years, the festival has gained a reputation for no-holds barred, thought-provoking debates and discussions on digital technology that allow the public to directly engage with and challenge the experts. The argument about the need to regulate the digital space has to be weighed against freedom of expression in our society, whether we are interacting in a virtual world or in the real world where we have the growth of so-called ‘safe spaces’. We also need to balance the risks of VR with the real benefits from training surgeons to the potential benefits already being explored for those suffering from paralysis and Parkinson’s disease as well as the huge opportunities in a range of fields from transport to entertainment and the arts. This promises to be a great debate with a fantastic and challenging line-up of speakers.”