Have you ever wondered why Facebook spent $2 billion USD to buy Oculus VR, an unproven tech startup which, at that point, had been in operation for less than two years? In a blog post announcing the deal, Mark Zuckerberg talks about how VR is “a new communication platform” destined to become “a part of daily life for billions of people” and how this naturally aligns with Facebook’s mission to make the world “more open and connected” for everyone. He doesn’t specify to whom or what we’re supposed to be more open and connected, but given what we know about Facebook’s data and advertising-driven revenue model, it’s not hard to fill in the blanks.
This is a worry. We already know that human behaviour can be strongly and subconsciously influenced by the social and physical environment. Some of the most (in) famous psychology experiments of the 20th Century – including the Stanford Prison experiment and the Milgram obedience experiments – testify to this fact, as does the design of everything from grocery stores to public parks and train stations. The question is: what happens when the environment is virtual and entirely beholden to the whims of a multinational corporation?
Virtual environments open up new and powerful possibilities for so-called neuromarketing: an intense kind of targeted advertising in which micro-gestures like eye, head, and hand movements are tracked and used to infer details about the person making them.
“When we have VR in the hands of neuromarketers, two things change,” says Madary. “First, [developers] have control over the entire environment. In the real world, the space in which advertising appears is fixed, but in VR the advertisement can be anywhere in that space. Second, because the technology works by tracking bodily movements, the neuromarketers will have much more information about how we react to advertisements. When marketers have that kind of information they can really take advantage of it because they can track exactly how people react."
But neuromarketing is just the tip of the iceberg. VR's ability to subconsciously influence people’s behaviour may also make it a potent vector for indoctrination. We've seen how VR might be used to enhance empathy – now imagine the opposite: a simulator designed to decrease empathy, to dehumanise the other from the inside out. Or imagine a kind of exposure therapy for extreme violence: soldiers deadened to acts of real brutality because they've done it all in VR so many times before.
"If we use our imagination, we can think of some really unpleasant uses for VR," says Madary.
CLICK HERE BUY!