What are the advantages/disadvantages of VR/AR and will they prove to be net positives for humans and society?
The last time I was here, we delved into the history of virtual reality and augmented reality. This technology has advanced significantly and quickly throughout recent years, which has worried many people due to the perceived risks linked to it. But is this just people catastrophizing and creating a dystopian future in their heads, or do they have a right to be afraid? Today, I will be delving into what makes virtual and augmented reality useful to humans and contrasting the pros with the potential drawbacks. Let us discover if we really want this technology to be a part of our future.
Let’s not start off on a negative note though. Virtual reality and augmented reality have brought many improvements and positive changes to our modern society. If you read my previous blog posts, you will already be aware of a few of these already. The largest and most visible positive change is its effect on education and training, as it provides a means to experience a potentially dangerous or difficult-to-attain situation in a virtual space . This can include disaster preparedness, heights training, emergency protocols, and hazardous material spills . Because of its high level of immersion and ability to affect many of our senses, it also serves as a great tool to experience hands-on training. While true, in-person hands-on training is still preferred, when an educational experience is too pricey, educators now have the option to turn to VR and AR instead of skipping the activity altogether . It can also provide an acceptable substitute for rural students who lack the equipment for certain learning opportunities. Children in rural areas can now use these technologies to experience a variety of hands-on learning, such as VR dissection .
Similarly, virtual and augmented reality technologies allow for far better access to disabled individuals, who may not be able to perform certain tasks in the real world. For example, with a VR headset, an individual bound to a wheelchair could experience how it is to climb hike up a mountain, stand on top of a waterfall, and bike through a forest . On top of that, many non-mobility disabled people, who suffer from hearing or visual loss, can benefit from this technology. There are AR glasses, that can correct colour blindness, hearing aids with AR, which can amplify certain sounds that the user wants to focus on, and VR programs, such as “Vision Buddy”, which help the visually impaired watch content at higher quality .
Virtual and augmented reality also has immense potential to improve how we communicate. While the invention of the smartphone, the widespread use of email, and the release of many new video-conferencing applications have allowed us to communicate more efficiently and with more people than ever before, something is still missing. The “human touch”. This is, of course, the driving force behind business travel, where people travel thousands of kilometres just to meet with someone else for a few hours. With virtual reality, we are able to hold virtual business meetings that are incredibly immersive, being able to stand, walk around, face different speakers, and even shake someone’s hand .
However, what may seem like a miracle technology most definitely has its downsides. The largest and most glaring issue with VR and AR is that soon enough, these technologies may be preferable to the real world. In essence, virtual reality’s greatest strength is also its greatest drawback. It’s too real. Because of its enhanced immersiveness and stimulus on the human brain, the chance of any one person getting addicted is quite high . This can lead to dependence, isolation from the real world, antisocial behaviour, loss of basic social skills, social anxiety, and a myriad of other mental health problems .
There are also multiple physical harms that can be caused by virtual/augmented reality. Using a headset for extended periods of time can lead to “cybersickness”, which, similar to car sickness, can make users violently nauseous. This is caused by the perceived movement your brain recognizes due to VR/AR images combined with the lack of actual movement in the real world. On top of this, eye soreness is quite common when it comes to VR/AR headsets, and may cause “long-term impairment of vision” . Unfortunately, comprehensive studies have yet to be completed on the subject.
In conclusion, virtual and augmented reality are net positives for humans and society as a whole. The near-infinite number of ways this technology can alter our society and how we interact with our environment is exciting and serves as a great platform for innovation. With VR/AR, we can make education more accessible, communication more efficient, and programs that will overhaul the lives of countless disabled individuals. However, we must realize that virtual and augmented reality are not miracle technologies. We must be more conscient than ever before and make a clear distinction in our societies that virtual reality will never be a substitute for the real world, only a tool. Even though there is still worry in the back of my mind, based on my research and personal experience, if we choose to fight technological advancement instead of growing with it, we are doomed to get swept up in its path. But I’m curious about what you think. Are you excited for the innovations to come? Are you indifferent? Or are you afraid of an impending dystopian landscape reminiscent of “The Matrix”? Let me know.