Last week an article of mine, entitled “The Ethics of Virtual Reality Technology: Social Hazards and Public Policy Recommendations,” was published in the journal Science and Engineering Ethics. In the article I discuss a number of issues related to virtual reality technology that are of serious moral concern and which, I argue, warrant the implementation of industry regulations. Here is the article abstract:
This article explores four major areas of moral concern regarding virtual reality (VR) technologies. First, VR poses potential mental health risks, including Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder. Second, VR technology raises serious concerns related to personal neglect of users’ own actual bodies and real physical environments. Third, VR technologies may be used to record personal data which could be deployed in ways that threaten personal privacy and present a danger related to manipulation of users’ beliefs, emotions, and behaviors. Finally, there are other moral and social risks associated with the way VR blurs the distinction between the real and illusory. These concerns regarding VR naturally raise questions about public policy. The article makes several recommendations for legal regulations of VR that together address each of the above concerns. It is argued that these regulations would not seriously threaten personal liberty but rather would protect and enhance the autonomy of VR consumers.
As for the regulations I recommend in the article, they include (1) a standardized rating system for VR technologies, (2) minimum age requirements for some VR products, (3) informational and warning labels, (4) public disclosure mandates, and, depending upon the degree to which VR technology merges with social networks, (5) “no share” laws regarding user data gleaned by VR companies.
To this day I have yet to experience VR technology first hand. This avoidance was not entirely intentional, but now I am pleased that I finished this research project before doing so, as I was somewhat wary of how the experience might bias my thinking about the subject. I am happy to say that all of the arguments and recommendations I make in the piece are based entirely on the research data I explored. But now that the article is published, I’m eager to do give VR a try. Anyone out there want to invite me to join them for a trip to a virtual world? I’m ready to don a headset and make the plunge!