Although Tonya Engst's book review of "Silicon Mirage" wasn't specifically intended to cover the topic of "virtual sex," some points need to be clarified. Even though I am NOT an expert in virtual reality (VR), I participated in a network conference on that subject a year ago as an interested party and would like to mention some of the finer details and conclusions we agreed on in the conference.
Tonya says, "It turns out that virtual reality has little to do with sex." I am sorry to say that as a quickly evolving technology and because it has always been the case, exploitative people will surely use VR as another sex-oriented product in an already huge industry. This is where the real problem arises.
Right now, VR is in its infancy and we are still far from publicly available computer-generated animations that are credible as reality. But as is often the case, the creation of a niche market for virtual sex will finance technological advances, leading to a finer quality of consumer VR within years. This forces us to take a stand on the matter very quickly.
With the advent of consumer VR, we will be flooded with a mass of VR peripherals that will cover the broad spectrum of sensations that a person can experience in real life, including sex. It is difficult NOT to imagine such peripherals considering the huge number of sex-oriented mechanical devices in sex shops. With the coming of peripherals capable of simulating the stimulus of sex in a fantasy reality, we are giving people the means to reinforce this pretend reality, a reality in which sex could conceivably be exaggerated beyond reality into imagination. In fact, we are creating the perfect device to transform people into sex-obsessed schizophrenics, people who can't distinguish reality from fiction. These devices could cause serious mental and sociological problems. [Of course, this applies to many different topics within a broad-based virtual environment, and is equally as harmful in those cases as well. -Adam]
The conclusion we drew in the VR conference was that even though VR is an interesting and promising technology, it must be closely supervised to achieve its true potential; without this supervision, VR could become another dangerous technology that could cost millions in medical care, social rehabilitation, and perhaps even lives. It is high time we address the possible abuses and deal with them while we still hold the reins.
[For those interested in the arguments that always swirl around when sex is mentioned, check out the cover story in NewMedia magazine's April issue, entitled "Digital Sex: Technology, Law, & Censorship." Suzanne Stefanac provides an excellent and thoughtful overview of many of the issues we raised in TidBITS#159 and #160, and she touches briefly on the issues Keith mentions above. -Adam]
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