Lately I’ve been curios about Virtual Reality (or, in short VR). This technology seems to make big steps towards mass adoption. Big companies (including Facebook, with its own Oculus Rift) are already shipping advanced products. So, the other day I did this short exercise of imagination… It’s a little long, but bear with me, it will worth the time.
Let’s start by imagining the most advanced VR helmet ever. You know how a VR helmet looks, I presume, but now I want you to imagine how this helmet works.
It takes total control over your visual field: you basically see only that 3d synthesized world and nothing else. The helmet also has very advanced accessories, which can mimic your natural sensations: gloves for feeling stuff, seamless headphones for stereophonic sound and even some odor emitter, so you can, for instance, smell the fresh air of a forest.
There are also proximity sensors and normal cameras, oriented to the outside world, so you can wear the helmet while you walk on the street.
It’s like having the whole reality remastered through the VR software: you can walk, but you don’t see with your eye, you see with this “smart filter” enabled. Sometimes, the VR software overlaps nice stuff over the environment, you know, like objects that aren’t really there, or people who are just superimposed on the background, like in a 3D Skype conversations.
Think Pokemon Go on steroids, but not as a game, just an overlapping world of stuff, blending in seamlessly with your “real” world.
It’s a cool gadget, right?
Now imagine people walking around on the streets with those helmets. The “reality” they see is filtered through their VR devices, they’re not really seeing the actual path. If “reality” is correctly generated, they can avoid obstacles, they can safely cross streets without being ran over by cars and, basically, they will go around without bumping into each other.
But what happens if there’s a virus in that helmet? What happens if a malicious user hacks in and starts doing all kind of stuff with the software?
For instance, it could identify random people on the street and tag them as “enemy”. Remember, you don’t see the reality, it’s filtered. And in that filer, a hacker can do whatever he wants.
So, you walk around with this VR helmet, and suddenly you start seeing “enemies” all around you.
What do you do?
There’s no way for you to know that the software has been compromised. You assume it works correctly, because all the other details are drawn like they used to be. But now you have those enemies.
What do you do?
The Wake Up Call: Virtual Reality Is Real
Well, this VR helmet is real. We’re all wearing it. All. No exceptions.
Sorry, but that’s the truth. We can’t see the helmet, because, well, we’re wearing it for so long, that it became part of ourselves.
And the hacker, as much as we don’t want to admit, is us.
And one of the soft spots the hacker uses to break in is our habit to make – and stick to -assumptions.
This hacker starts by assuming that a person can be harmful. And then we stick to that assumption, without verifying it and we “tag” that person as being the enemy.
And we start taking preventive measures. We may start to avoid that person. Or, if we think “the best defense is attack” we may even become aggressive towards these “enemies”.
And here comes the interesting part.
What happens if the others aren’t hacked? What happens if their “reality” was not filtered?
Well, the best case scenario is that we will look like idiots. And the worst case scenario is, in the case of us being aggressive, that they will do whatever they can to protect themselves.
And That’s How Everything Goes Down The Rabbit Hole
We do live in a generated reality. We do live in a “Virtual Reality” that we take for granted. And we do have the ability to filter out some of the aspects of this reality.
Part of it is because we need these “shortcuts” in order to react to events faster. And part of it is because we engrained it so deep in our behavior that it simply became a habit. We’re lazy, we’re daydreaming, we’re busy, we do “something else”, so instead of being in the now and analyzing everything in its own context, we just build a distorted reality, one unverified assumption at a time.
Assumption aren’t always fearful. Sometimes we assume that everything will just “be ok”. And, of course, it isn’t.
Sometimes we assume that even if we eat a cookie, we won’t gain weight. Of course we will.
Sometimes we assume that it’s ok to shout at someone who “wronged” us, and that the shouting will have no consequence, because “we’re entitled to it”. Of course it will have consequences, if only the consequence that we will slowly generate the habit of shouting at people every time we feel like, even if there’s no harm done whatsoever.
The MiniGuide Of A Healthy Virtual Reality Hacker
With that being said, what can we do? How can we be sure that our “smart filter” is actually smart and not dumb? How can we, as the hacker, can make the most of our VR helmet?
It may sound like the dumbest way to fight the problems of a hacked “smart filter” but it’s not like that. The trick is to breathe a few times before you engage in any action whatsoever, even in the action of labeling somebody as being an “enemy” or a “friend”.
Just breathe. It will create some space in which the distinction will blur, and the need to act according to this label will slowly vanish. What will be left will be only your presence and the current moment. And in that current moment, the real, the appropriate reaction will emerge.
2. Verify Everything
Remember that this VR helmet is very performant. It can easily superimpose stuff that isn’t actually there. So, every time you encounter some challenging situation, do your best to identify if all the stuff involved in that situation is “real”. Some of it, (sometimes all of it), may be just generated, superimposed by your previous habits.
For instance, you meet somebody that looks like a person who harmed you. I mean, physically, that person has the same appearance. The reflex is to back off. Well, as hard is it may be, try to verify if that person is really harmful to you.
3. If You Add Something, Make It Useful
If you really want to interfere with the software, then at least try to create something that will be of benefit to other players. Observe them, understand their needs and try to be useful. Somehow.
If they need somebody to take care of them, try to be that person.
4. Remember, It’s Just A Simulation
That is probably the hardest thing to do. But once you mastered this, all of the above will graceful fall into it place.