If you are not familiar with Jaron Lanier, he is a virtual reality pioneer who has written two books known as Who Owns the Future and You Are Not a Gadget. We have written about the problems with technology being similar to The Matrix, but Larnier talks about the problems with incorporated VR, and he talks about something that we all need to think about before we fully embrace an age of VR like we embraced the Information/Internet Age.
A recent article from The Seattle Times has an interview with Lanier, who started working with virtual reality for over 30 years. This was back before VR became "a thing" in the nineties, and then essentially dropped off the map for a decade only to finally resurface with the Oculus Rift. Now, a lot of other companies are attempting to jump aboard the VR train as HTC has the Vive, Google has their Cardboard and Daydream, Samsung has their Gear VR, and Microsoft has the Hololens.
In fact, Lanier works for Microsoft Research, and although he should be very excited about the entering of a new VR age, Lanier is "deeply worried". He is especially worried about how VR tech is going to put even more power into the hands of a very small number of companies that are already pretty powerful. He's talking about companies like Google, Facebook, and much more.
Lanier states that a lot of these companies have good intentions, but the issue is that VR requires great advancements in Artificial Intelligence to work. In order to maintain the illusion of virtual reality, these VR systems are going to have to constantly keep track of what the users are doing, what they are paying attention to, and what they are responding to.
With that kind of data, it would be very easy for the systems and the companies behind them to seriously data mine you to see what you want and will want. They might even be able to identify certain medical conditions with your virtual behavior.
And you thought all the cookies on your web browser were annoying. Think about an age where these VR companies get all the advertising information that they can about you and specifically target you, and try to change your behavior so you can buy more products. Remember the scene from Minority Report when Tom Cruise is trying to maintain a low cover, but all of the ads surrounding him are literally calling his name? Just picture that in a VR environment.
Of course, in the VR world, only the user will have to face countless ads for stuff, and the isolation might make the user more susceptible. Lanier is concerned that companies that have their hands deep in VR could learn to use this power like puppeteers, and it is definitely something to be aware of. The solution, as Lanier puts it, is "we have to get the power relatively moving in an ethical direction, or we're in trouble."
What do you think? Go ahead and leave a comment if you see us heading toward this age.