Sunday, September 28, 2014

If I Should Die Before I Wake

You may already be familiar with the name Zoltan Istvan . He’s a transhumanist philosopher, best known for his book The Transhumanist Wager. His protagonist Jethro Knights is a radical iconoclast, and lately Zoltan himself has been publishing articles advocating the drastic change implemented in his book. He received death threats for his WIRED post in favour of restricting Human breeding, and his latest article on Huffington suggests that we should make it illegal for anyone under the age of sixteen to participate in religion .
While I respect Zoltan and enjoy entertaining his philosophies, I believe his radicalism is misplaced. When discussing the dangers that religion poses to children, Zoltan is mostly referring to religious extremism. I wholly agree that such an environment would be emotionally unhealthy for a child. I agree with Richard Dawkins that threatening children with eternal hellfire is cruel and potentially psychologically damaging, and that social services would probably be justified in removing children from a fundamentalist household.
My main issue with militant atheism is that it makes no distinction between moderate religion and religious extremists, and treating religious moderates as dangerous zealots is grossly unfair and counterproductive. In Zoltan’s article, he never really specifies what constitutes religious indoctrination. Does he think taking a kid to a church picnic would be abuse? That doesn’t sound rational to me.
And that is after all the great hypocrisy of militant atheism: it’s irrational. It’s essentially tribalistic hate-mongering for those outside their thede. For instance, many militant atheists cite 9/11 as proof that religion is an existential threat and must be abolished if we are to survive. Although 9/11 did have a high body count for a terrorist attack, and was admittedly a very horrifying spectacle, 3000 deaths is a relatively small fraction of the global death toll. Between 100 and 150 thousand people die every day. Even if religious extremists killed 3000 people every single day (which they don’t), that would still only be a marginal increase in the daily fatality rate.
Statistically you’re more likely to choke to death on your own vomit than be killed in a terrorist attack. It doesn’t matter if you’re an atheist or a right-wing American politician; when you treat terrorism as a greater threat than any of at least a dozen diseases with a higher body count, that is not rationality. That is the primitive, tribalistic, Lord of the Flies part of your brain telling you to hate your enemy.
If we are to rationally discuss the possibility of prohibiting religion, than the costs and benefits of prohibition must be objectively evaluated. I think the comparison to alcohol prohibition is an apt one. Like religion, alcohol is dangerous in excess but mostly benign and even beneficial in moderation. Even if you believe that the destructive effects of alcoholism are so great that it would be better if alcohol didn’t exist at all, eliminating it is not a practical option. Not only is prohibition costly, the black market it spawns feeds organized crime, ultimately making prohibition more destructive than alcohol ever was. Similarly, I believe that suppressing religion in general would have a galvanizing effect, and drive many religious moderates to extremism out of self-preservation.
Zoltan doesn’t even discuss how we could possibly enforce a law that forbade parents from passing their religious beliefs onto their children. Is praying with your children by their bedside adequate cause to remove them from your custody? I don’t believe that, and I don’t think most atheists believe that either. It’s ridiculously cruel and petty.
While Zoltan’s ideas may come from the best of intentions, he often neglects the insurmountable practical problems that would arise in implementing them. He proposes population control, but never says how it is to be enforced, who decides who’s qualified to reproduce, and ignores the obvious potential for discrimination. He proposes keeping religion away from minors, but again neglects to speculate how this would even be accomplished, or what even counts as religion.
Despite the massive political and logistical problems with imposing an age limit on religion, I think the main reason it should be rejected is simply out of respect for individual rights. People do have the right to believe whatever they want, and are free to act in any way that does not interfere with the rights or wellbeing of others. You do not have the right to force others to think or act differently, even if you believe it is for their own good. Parents have the right to raise their children as they see fit, so long as they are not harming them. I know not everyone will agree with me, but moderate religion does no harm. Or at the very least, it does not do sufficient harm to justify the massive expense of attempting to abolish it.
I realize that religious extremism is terrifying, especially with the recent activity of ISIS, and I understand why people think it should be stamped out as brutally as possible. But responding with discrimination and violence only justifies the cause of the extremism and fans the flames of hatred. A war between militant atheists and religious extremists would only bring about the mutual destruction of both. If your enemy cannot be destroyed, than the only rational option is to make peace with them.
I respectfully urge the non-religious community to reject Zoltan Istvan’s suggestion of making it illegal for minors to practice religion. Such blatant discrimination against so many billions of people’s cherished way of life will only cause more suffering than it would prevent. The day you have to outlaw evangelism of your opposing ideology is the day reason and justice are no longer your side.            

This article was originally posted on Wave Chronicle.

Monday, June 16, 2014

15 future technologies that should (not) scare you

On Twitter I follow a popular fact sharing account known as @uberfacts. As has been pointed out elsewhere , a number of the ‘facts’ they tweet are either questionable or completely false. On at least three occasions now they have tweeted a link to a gizmopod gallery entitled 15 future technologies that should scare you

After viewing this gallery I found it to be very conservative and neophobic, with an almost singular focus on the negative effects of future technology with almost no thought given to the positive. Frankly, the author sounds like they’re practicing for being a stereotypical old man, blinded by his nostalgia and rambling on about how rotten the modern world is. I find this sort of ignorant fear mongering very irritating, so I would like to refute each of the gallery’s 15 points.

1. In vitro meat

I found the first entry on the list to be the most egregious, as absolutely no reason is given as to why this would be a bad thing. The author just takes it for granted that anything so unnatural would automatically be bad. Natural meat currently accounts for nearly a quarter of our greenhouse gas emissions and is horribly inefficient to produce, requiring an average of 100 grams of vegetable matter to produce every 15 grams of meat. The conditions in Factory Farms are horrific and unsanitary, and the wide spread use of antibiotics in agriculture is a major contributor to antibiotic resistance. Cultured meat, in contrast, would require significantly less energy, land and water to produce. It could be grown in a sterile environment that would negate the need for antibiotics, and eliminating our contact with farm animals would greatly reduce the risk of their diseases mutating to infect us. The meat could be engineered to be much healthier than real meat, and of course would be much kinder to the donor animals involved in its production. It’s good for the environment, good for our health, and good for the animals. I really don’t see an issue with it at all.

2. Cuddlebot

This entry seems to be the least serious on the list. It’s basically a robotic tribble, and I get the feeling the author added it just to get the number up to fifteen. The thing is just a battery powered stuffed animal, neither very futuristic nor very worrying.

3. Breathe Like a Fish

Here the author suggests that the ability to breathe oxygen from water would result in Human beings colonizing the ocean, inevitably leading to territorial disputes. First of all, it will take more than advanced scuba gear to allow Human beings to live underwater indefinitely. Secondly, Human Beings coming into conflict over limited resources is inevitable. If anything, colonizing the oceans would increase the amount of habitable space in the World, thereby reducing conflict.

4. Exoskeletons

The author’s main concern with this is their use in warfare. They completely ignore the reality that this will grant greatly increased mobility to the disabled, and also enhance the productivity of physical labourers. I personally think that super soldiers will prove to be politically unviable. If you have transhuman cyborgs massacring helpless civilians, that’s a PR nightmare. Any military that did so would likely receive condemnation both from the international community and their civilian governments.

5. Caffeine Spray

Like a lot of entries on this list, this appears to be pure neophobia. The author never suggests caffeine is bad in and of itself. Does the method of ingestion really matter? I personally like mochas, but if you want to spray caffeine right on your skin I’m not going to judge.

6. Microdrones

The threat advancing technology poses to privacy is a complex issue, one beyond the scope of this article. I will therefore defer the reader to David Brin’s nonfiction book The Transparent Society, wherein he speculates how we might adapt to this future and turn it largely to our benefit.

7. Tube Trains

I don’t deny that some trees will need to be cut down to make the infrastructure for this technology, but how is that any different from modern highways? Evacuated Tube Transport will be much faster and environmentally friendly, as the tubes can be powered by solar panels built along the tops of their tunnels.

8. Synthetic Alcohol

Once again, the author’s fear seems to be nothing but neophobia. What exactly is the problem with a drink that never gets you black out drunk, does not create physical dependence and causes none of the bodily harm of alcohol?

9. Brain Computer Interface

Obviously there are risks with directly interfacing with the brain, but there are also great benefits. If we rejected every technology that simply came with a risk of doing us harm then we wouldn’t even have fire. This sort of technophobic fear-mongering typically assumes that not even the most common sense precautions will be taken to protect against abuse or accidents. The knowledge that allows us to create neural interfaces will also allow us to mitigate the risks they pose, allowing us to reap the greatest benefit.

10. Wi-fi based X-ray vision

While this is admittedly a privacy concern, it is also a great medical advance. Imagine downloading a medical app to your phone that can actually scan your body for signs of disease.

11. Speech Jammer

I can’t really think of a legitimate use for this technology, but functionally I don’t see how it’s really any different than sounding a bullhorn in someone’s face. This is a high tech solution to a low tech problem.

12. Self-driving cars

Will these cars sometimes make mistakes that end in loss of life? Of course they will, but Humans do that too. If a self-driving car is statistically less likely to get into an accident than a person, then it would be irrational to oppose them.

13. Winged Rollercosters

This seems to be purely personal. I don’t like intense amusement park rides either, but if you enjoy them then by all means go ahead.

14. Edible Packaging

Here the author at least admits this will greatly reduce the amount of non-biodegradable garbage we currently produce. Their concern is that these packages will be eaten when that is undesirable. There is currently a patch of garbage in the Pacific Ocean twice the size of the United States. If bite marks on our boxes is the price we pay to get rid of it, I can live with that.

15. Human Life extension

Sadly, the author’s objection to this is purely misanthropic. Humans are viewed only as consumers and destroyers, and longer lives only mean more consumption and destruction. But Humans are also creators. Imagine what our greatest minds could accomplish if they could live for centuries. Imagine what you could accomplish. If people lived for centuries, would that not also make them less short-sighted? Would they not be more concerned with environmental destruction if they could expect to live for hundreds of years? Would they not be more motivated to ensure that the world they had to live in forever was a good one?    

I’ve said before that technology is a double edged sword, and we should not ignore its potential dangers. But that does not mean we should fear or reject it indiscriminately.  Pessimism in no more rational than optimism, and we should not allow na├»ve cynicism to scare us away from progress. Though it is impossible to create a perfect world, it is always possible to make a better one.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Time and Punishment

An article by Rebecca Roache has gained some notoriety among futurist circles recently. In this article Roache speculates on how anticipated technologies like life extension, mind uploading and Human modification might be used to punish criminals. The main source of controversy has been that the tone of the original article made it seem that Roache was in favour of using advanced technology to torture prisoners in ways that were never before possible. Roache has since insisted that the article is merely speculation and that she does not necessarily support any of the penal methods she discusses.

Regardless of Roache’s intent, I believe that the outrage the article has provoked is not misplaced. Transhumanists, at least of the Kurzweil variety, tend to be a rather Utopian lot. They generally assume that future technology will only be used for good, and that good will be equally distributed. They often fail to seriously consider all of the ways future technology might be abused or misused, and the profound and prolific misery that would result.

Any serious discussion about the future of technology must consider the risks and abuses of that technology so that we may better protect ourselves from such dangers. Technology is and always has been a double edged sword, and refusing to acknowledge that reality only puts us in peril.

Roache first discusses life extension being used as a punishment in and of itself. I seriously doubt any society where life extension was a privilege would ever use public resources to imbue its most heinous criminals with immortality. That’s insane on the face of it. But assume for a minute a future society where indefinite life extension was not only possible but inclusive in Universal Healthcare. If immortality is a right of every citizen, does the state ever have the right to deny it to criminals? Would allowing criminals to age and die of natural causes constitute an execution?

Most countries in the developed world, with one major and obvious exception, have eliminated the death penalty. Cruel and unusual punishments are typically viewed as barbaric, and I would hope future societies share these values. In an age where life extension is a Human right, allowing a criminal to age by denying them their proverbial golden apples would likely be comparable to starving them death. Even if they do practice capital punishment, old age would likely be considered far too inhumane as a means of execution.

But if they don’t execute major offenders, then the question remains what is to be done with them? I agree that imprisoning immortals for a few decades seems inadequate, but imprisoning them for eternity seems harsh and impractical. In a world with indefinite life extension, I think the very concept of prison needs to be rethought.  As Roache points out in her article, the moral values we hold sacred require that prisoners have a certain standard of living that can sometimes be higher than that which they inflicted upon their victims. Since prisoners are not tortured or even really deprived, their only real punishment can be said to be their loss of freedom. I’m sure that any red blooded American who holds freedom as their most cherished value would indeed consider the loss of freedom to be a severe punishment. In actuality however I expect that mere incarceration is minor compared to the plethora of gruesome tortures that could theoretically be inflicted on someone.

Since our prison system can hardly be considered retributive, what then is its main purpose? I would say that the purpose of prisons is to segregate dangerous individuals from the general population to ensure they do not harm or kill innocent people. I believe that rehabilitation would be a far more cost effective strategy of preventing crimes than keeping immortal criminals incarcerated indefinitely.

 As our understanding of Human biology and psychology increases, it is becoming more and more obvious that criminals often suffer from some sort of defect, most often a lack of empathy or impulse control. When medical science advances to the point that indefinite life extension is a reality, it should also be possible to correct the faulty biology that would incline an individual towards criminal behaviour.

I do presume that government mandated body modification will be controversial, just as chemical castration of sex offenders is today. Nevertheless, I believe that many criminals themselves would prefer rehabilitation over being locked up for eternity. Public officials would certainly favour it since it would be so much cheaper.

For those of you who believe in retributive justice, that criminals must suffer in proportionality to the suffering they caused, ask yourselves if that’s really the best use of your taxes. Public funds should be put to the most efficient use possible. Why should criminals be incarcerated at the public’s expense when they can be rehabilitated and then sentenced to community service to recoup the cost of their treatment? Restorative justice is not only more humane and compassionate than retributive justice, it’s cheaper. I also believe rehabilitation would be safer in the long run. If an immortal is to be kept in prison indefinitely, then he is statistically likely to escape at some point during the centuries, eager for revenge.

But Roache brings up an alternative to physical incarceration in her article. She proposes using mind uploading, or simply tampering with the brain directly, to subject criminals to virtual prisons and distort the passage of time. Brief incarcerations could be made to feel like centuries. In this instance I must object to retributive justice not on practical grounds, but on moral ones.

I believe in objective morality, that you should treat others as you would have them treat you and that anything that violates this tenet is immoral. Murderers do not wish to be murdered, rapists don’t want to be raped, thieves don’t like being stolen from and slave owners are glad they’re not slaves. Empathy is thus key to moral behaviour, as is mercy. Revenge is wrong because the perpetrator of the original crime is denied mercy. If you did something wrong, you would like to be shown mercy.

What Roache is suggesting is ‘an eye for an eye’ type of penal system. I firmly believe that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. Inflicting suffering upon a criminal in no way alleviates the suffering of their victims. You cannot undo suffering by causing suffering. Taking vengeance on wrong doers does not undo their crimes. The type of involuntary modifications Roache is suggesting would be a severe violation of an individual’s self-autonomy and should be considered a Human right’s violation. On that principle alone it should be considered unacceptable, even for our worst criminals. No one should be sentenced to an eternity in virtual Hell.  

The question still remains what is to be done with dangerous criminals who cannot be reformed. If it is ethically impermissible to deny them immortality or exile them to a virtual hell, yet impractical and risky to keep them incarcerated forever, what then should we do? It’s a good question, and I don’t have an answer. There is no Utopian solution here, for there are no criminals in Utopia .Often in reality the best we can do is choose the lesser of two evils.

I will not say definitively what form of punishment is the lesser evil, but I will say that a compassionate justice system should always strive for the lesser evil. We should try to heal the damage caused by crime, not deal out an equal amount of damage in recompense. If a person must be incarcerated for any length of time for the public good, they should not be made to suffer.  If we treat our criminals like monsters, then both of us will only become more monstrous. But if we show them compassion, mercy, and love, then we might just end up with a few less monsters.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

To Russia with Love

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” –Desmund Tutu

I recently signed All Out's online petition against the Russian government’s laws criminalizing ‘gay propaganda’, and I hope you will consider signing it too. Russia is presently one of the most homophobic countries outside of the Islamic World, and for its government to not only permit but encourage the persecution of LGBT people is deplorable. For the lives, safety and dignity of the innocent people living in Russia, we must make it clear that this is not acceptable.

This is not merely a matter of conflicting cultural values. Homophobia is inherently irrational, as it is based purely on primitive tribalism; an Us vs Them mentality. Homophobia brands homosexuals as ‘Others’, thus making them subhuman and justifying their inhumane treatment. To hate and fear someone simply because they are outside of your arbitrarily defined clan, and dismissing them as inferior to yourself is based purely on instinctive tribalism and not on any rational analysis of empirical evidence. Such primal, gut reactions should never be the basis for law or policy in a just and enlightened society.   

Fear can be rational, but in order to be rational the object of your fear must actually possess both the ability and the inclination to cause you harm.

Individuals engaging in same-sex romantic and/or sexual relationships harm no one.

I’m a Canadian, and we’ve had nation-wide marriage equality for almost a decade now. We are widely recognized as one of the most gay-friendly countries in the world, and we are also one of the best countries in the world. Canada is ranked in 11th place on the Human Development Index, whereas Russia is at fifty five. Treating gay people as equals and as Human beings has not resulted in the collapse of our society.  If you need any assurance that accepting gay people will not result in the collapse of civilization, you need look no further than the Great White North.  

As my great country makes clear, gay people don’t cause individuals or society any harm simply by existing. Persecuting them is thus irrational. Hating gay people is a waste of your time and energy that is better spent addressing real problems. Homophobia is as irrational and ridiculous as hating left-handed people, or red-headed people. All these ludicrous prejudices are based purely on unthinking tribalism. Anyone who hates and fears ‘Others’ simply for their otherness in the absence of any actual threat has clearly never given the issue any real thought, and beliefs born of ignorance should never be given any credence.

The reality is that gays are people and harmless, and are therefore entitled to the same Human rights as anyone else. To deny them this is an injustice and should be condemned as such. Russia is a conservative country and thus many of its people draw comfort from tradition, but an injustice is still an injustice no matter how long it’s been going on. Traditionalism cannot be used as an excuse to deprive people of their basic rights. If it could, we would never have abolished slavery.  

The 2013 law that has now gained worldwide notoriety is primarily concerned with preventing children from being exposed to ‘gay propaganda’, seemingly because they believe that such propaganda will turn children gay. Again, this is not based in reality because Human sexuality does not work that way. It is also irrational to not wish for your children to be gay, since gays are people like everyone else and not a monstrous race of Others as many Russian homophobes seem to believe. If you would prefer heterosexual children simply for the sake of ensuring your germline, then you should have a large family. As long as one of your kids has kids of their own then you’re covered. If Russians feel that homosexuals are shirking their reproductive duties, I would like to point out that the Russian fertility fate is below replacement levels, so straight Russians aren’t making their baby quota either.

Finally, what’s going on in Russia right now is not just a gay rights issue. It is a Human rights issue. This law is a blatant violation of freedom of speech. To use one of the homophobe’s favourite fallacies, that is a very slippery slope. If Russia can ban ‘gay propaganda’, what other kinds of propaganda might they ban? Russia is sliding back into authoritarianism, and that’s not good for anyone. Any country where someone can be arrested for waving a rainbow flag is not a free country. For the sake of all Russians and all Humanity, this situation should not be allowed to deteriorate any further than it already has.    

Please follow the link in the top paragraph to sign the petition. We must make it clear to the Russian government that gay people are our fellow Human beings and that their persecution is an injustice that cannot be allowed to continue. Please help make Russia safe not only for our Olympians, but for all Human beings regardless of their sexual orientation.  

Love and tolerance everypony. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Reviewing Desolation of Smaug

I saw Desolation of Smaug tonight. I caught the Tuesday cheap show. I liked it, but not as much as the first one. My main reason for this is because Jackson has taken far more liberties with the story than he did in the first movie, which makes me nervous for the last movie.

I felt the Mirkwood section, including the Dwarves incarceration by Thranduil, went by too quickly, and this was purely for the sake of making time for subplots of Jacksons own design. I understand the need to add additional material in order to stretch the story out to a nine hour trilogy, but for Jackson to give his original storylines more importance than Tolkien’s is disrespectful in my opinion.

In the book, after the party was rescued by the Eagles they didn’t run into the Goblins again until the Battle of Five Armies. In Jackson’s version, they are pursued continuously by the Orcs who attack them as they’re escaping from Thranduil and even invade Lake Town. This was solely for the purpose of adding action sequences to draw the movie out, and I think this was a bad decision. There’s too much action in this movie, and not enough Stephen Fry. Stephen Fry is awesome and I would have liked to have seen more of him. He should have had a bigger role, and the political situation in Lake Town should have been expanded on further.

In the book the Dwarves were given a warm welcome to Lake Town, but in the movie they had to be smuggled in. This is one change I actually agree with since Lake Town is dependent on its trade with Thranduil and logically would not want to anger him by harbouring fugitives. This change is ultimately irrelevant as the Master still decides to support the party because his people believe in the prophecy of the King under the Mountain returning and restoring the area to its former glory. Since this change ultimately made no difference to the plot, I don’t see why it was necessary in the first place, aside for making an excuse for the dwarves to crawl out of a toilet.

I do approve of Bard’s role being expanded upon. In the book he’s given no introduction before Smaug’s attack, and obviously in a movie the guy who’s the real hero deserves a more prominent role.  Kili’s subplot added nothing for me, and I do not understand why an elf and a dwarf would fall in love at first sight when the two races are supposed to hate each other. Elves vs Dwarves is pretty much the trope codifier for Fantastic Racism. I also don’t understand why Thranduil has scars that are somehow magically concealed most of the time.

Smaug was awesome. He was actually kind of scary. Giant reptiles are just primordially terrifying. It’s a vestigial instinct inherited from our distant ancestors who lived during the time of the Dinosaurs. So terrifying were the Dragons who once ruled this Earth that even after they’ve been gone for millions of generations the apes who rule the Earth now still have not forgotten their fear of them. That’s pretty awesome.

However, I have the same issue with the party’s attack on Smaug as I do with their entrance into Lake Town. It’s a change that makes no difference to the plot. It’s an action sequence purely for the sake of having an action sequence. They don’t kill or injure Smaug, and he still goes to attack Lake Town like he did in the book when the party did nothing but send Bilbo in to steal something. This change does make Thorin and co. seem less passive, but it’s still action just for the sake of taking up time. Smaug’s belly is also supposed to be jewel encrusted, and I find it disappointing that it’s not. Smaug is supposed to be a fantastic Dragon and he should be bedazzled.

On the whole I did like the movie, but for the most part I disliked it when it deviated from the original story and I’m worried the final installment may deviate even further. Here’s to another year spent in cautious anticipation.    

In the meantime, please enjoy Rarity's attempt to get her hooves on Smaug's treasure.

Friday, November 15, 2013

My first Youtube video!

I made a Youtube video. It only took a couple of days, and it was a fun little project. I had this idea in my head for several weeks and I'm glad I finally saw it through. There's a serene sense of satisfaction in wanting something to exist and then bringing it into being yourself. If you're a fan of Attack on Titan and/or Friendship is Witchcraft, I hope you enjoy this.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

There is life outside the Holodeck

It has been said many times by many different people that the Holodeck will be Humanity’s last invention. The argument goes that if we could create a simulated reality indistinguishable from the real world, the average person (if not everyone) would elect to live in their own personalized fantasy world. I personally consider this line of thinking technophobic fear-mongering, based on a shallow and biased analysis of both the technology in question as well as Humanity. The kind of people who make this argument are usually the same kind of people who believe that Star Trek’s replicator would also be the end of everything since it would make work obsolete. Their minds are so stuck in the status quo they don’t seem to realize that if they had a Santa Claus machine they wouldn’t need to work, and automation will make work obsolete long before we have personal nanofactories.

But, this article is about simulated reality. We already have commercially available virtual reality in the form of video games, and society has not collapsed. You may scoff at the comparison, as a game console is clearly nowhere near the same level of sophistication as simulated reality. While this is certainly true, it is also irrelevant. Due to the way the Human mind works, video games are already highly psychologically immersive. When someone plays a video game, they’re not sitting on a couch watching a screen. They are their avatar, and they are in that world. Virtual reality headsets never caught on partially because they solve a problem that doesn’t exist. It was also partially because they’re cumbersome and cause motion sickness, but a person doesn’t need total visual immersion in order to achieve psychological immersion.

This doesn’t just apply to video games. They’ve done brain scans of people simply reading books, and their brains were as active as if they were actually experiencing what they were reading. The same was probably true of our earliest ancestors listening to stories by the fire. We already have, and indeed always have had, virtual reality that is highly psychologically immersive. Making virtual realities more physical immersive or more realistic wouldn’t make a significant amount of difference in that regard. We even have drugs that can cause hallucinations that are indistinguishable from reality, though I doubt they’re as controllable as simulated reality would presumably be. I do of course acknowledge the existence of video game addiction, and there have always been people who prefer fantasy to reality, but not so many that our society has collapsed. I wouldn’t expect simulated realities to be significantly more addicting than modern gaming systems, since they provide similar degrees of psychological immersion.

In fact, a simulated reality might actually be less enjoyable than a virtual one. There are several episodes of Star Trek where someone has been place into a Holodeck without them knowing it. I personally find that very disturbing. Human beings do not like ambiguity, especially when it comes to what’s real or what’s not. Simulated realities could very well cross into uncanny valley territory. A game that makes you seriously question whether or not the world around you is real does not sound like fun. Even if we do develop the technology to create perfect simulations, we might deliberately choose to make them somehow obviously not real to avoid the uncanny valley. A modern day example of this would be how many CG movies intentionally make their Human characters look cartoonish so that they’re not creepy.

Simulated realities might have other negative psychological consequences. As far as I know no one’s ever developed post-traumatic stress disorder playing Call of Duty, but what if the simulation was indistinguishable from a real battle? The knowledge that it wasn’t real might not be enough to keep them sane. There are instances of people freaking out in haunted houses, even though they knew the danger was only simulated. Fear is not rational. Would combat even be enjoyable in a simulation that was physically immersive? Wouldn’t that create an actual danger of injury, or even death?

If you are or ever were a regular viewer of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine or Voyager, then you will know that the Holodeck frequently malfunctioned, and that these malfunctions were often life threatening. The Holodeck malfunctions in approximately one third of the episodes it’s featured in. Russian roulette has better odds.  It would obviously take extremely complex software to create a simulation that would be indistinguishable from reality, and the more complex something is the easier it is for something to go wrong. Modern day video games have glitches, and simulated realities would have them too. Depending on the nature of the simulation, these glitches could well be life threatening. I doubt real people would be as cavalier about these risks as they are on Star Trek.

But I’m getting a little off topic. This article is meant to be an analysis on the social implication of simulated reality, not its technical feasibility. One reason I doubt that the average simulated reality user will not lock themselves away in their own private utopia is the existence of online gaming. Playing with and against real people is very popular. People choose to interact with other real people within their virtual realities, because humans are inherently social and interacting with NPCs just doesn’t cut it. Making NPCs more Human like won’t solve the problem.

Those who claim that people would choose a simulation over reality have made a common error. They have equated pleasure with happiness. Happiness is not pleasure. Happiness is meaning. In order to be happy, you need to feel that your life has meaning and that you’ve accomplished something. You need to feel that you have a purpose, that you are needed by other people and that the world would be worse off if you were gone. Simulations can provide pleasure, but they cannot provide meaning. All of your accomplishments are meaningless when the difficulty level can be dialed up or down at will, and when the only things affected by your actions are non-sentient computer programs. Sexbots would be great prostitutes, but they wouldn’t be very good spouses because they couldn’t actually love you. You cannot have a meaningful relationship with a philosophical zombie. If your sexbot was sentient, then you would be a slave owner and a rapist. Love is only love when it’s given freely. The holograms on Star Trek are sentient and horribly oppressed. They’re people created for the amusement of others and terminated when their masters become bored with them. Voyager’s EMH is the only hologram in the federation who gets any respect.

My point is that simulated reality cannot provide you with meaning unless you are delusional. Some people definitely would delude themselves, just as we have people who value virtual reality over their real lives today. I do not however believe that this will be a pervasive problem. I think that most people will recognize simulated realities for the fantasies that they are, and still be driven to achieve things in the real world and interact with real people, in order to give themselves the sense of purpose they intrinsically crave.

As a final note, I see no reason why simulated reality could not blend in seamlessly with the real world, creating a sort of hybrid reality. Google Glass would be a step in this direction, for instance. The most likely technology that could be used to create a Holodeck style simulation would be utility fog, and there’s no reason why it would have to be confined to a single room as it is on Star Trek. Foglets could be diffusely suspended in the air, and form objects or avatars on command.

Future technology will surely alleviate many of our current problems, along with causing some of their own. Though simulated reality will have its pros and cons, I hope I’ve made my case that it will not be our last invention.