Pokémon Go players have fallen off a cliff, crashed their cars, and jumped into traffic. They have been robbed. Someone saw his house invaded by players who were told it was an open meeting place to train and fight.
In Pokémon Go, as in virtual reality, software becomes the primary mediator between us and the world. We are immersed in what software shows us.
Sensory experience produces brain responses corresponding to smell, taste, touch, light, and sound waves. These responses are sent to brain locations that create the individual parts of experience such as body position, motion, sound and sight. These parts are then integrated and consolidated into an “event”. Traces back to the original sensations are connected to the event. Even though language is used to recall these events, language is not used to encode them.
Eventually, virtual reality software will be able to generate inputs (perhaps even directly, bypassing the sensory organs) that are different from what we would otherwise experience.
Would that be a lie? Or does virtual reality present us with a choice? Do we want to take the world as it is, or do we want to allow software to give us a filtered, modified, or totally different world?
We have faced this problem before. Look at these three famous works of art:
The first, “Lamentation, The Mourning of Christ” is by Giotto, the first painter of international repute in the Western world. The second, “The Last Supper” is by his possible teacher, Cimabue, whose fame he eclipsed. The third, “The Wedding of the Virgin” is by Raphael, perhaps one of the greatest artistic draftsman of all times.
Cimabue’s painting, largely reflecting the Byzantine tradition that he inherited, is flat and highly stylized. The figures display no real emotion. The representation of the story is the major theme. We would not say, as we might about Giotto or Raphael, that his paintings lived.
Giotto’s painting lives. While there is no true perspective, there is a sense of space created by the wall going diagonally across. As in life, each individual express a different emotion with different body language. You sense the drama from the tragedy of loss.
Raphael’s painting, looks prettier to us, with the better drawn people, true perspective, more attractive colors, and balanced composition giving a sense of order.
Yet it is much less natural than the Giotto, the people have little or no expression, and the body language is almost as posed as Cimabue’s Byzantine inspired image.
Which do you prefer? The more natural Giotto, or the more beautiful Raphael. Reality as it is, or the virtualized reality?
While not everyone rated Raphael above da Vinci or Michelangelo, most people would prefer Raphael over the Giotto. The more “virtual”, beautiful High Renaissance style, over the more natural. It appeals to our sense of beauty.
Will people make a similar choice, preferring virtual reality to the natural?
The entire argument of the past 120 years over representation in art could be a prelude to this discussion. If, as the Picasso epigraph argues, art is a truthful lie, it has been virtual reality all along. The Nietzsche epigraph goes even further, arguing that we create our own virtual realities in our brain anyway – we have been lying to ourselves all along.
Everybody may not choose beauty or pleasantness, but virtual reality offers the possibility for everybody to get exactly what they want – heaven, purgatory or hell, or just plain ugliness.
Once software becomes the primary mediator between us and the world, we will see the world that software thinks we should see.
Given the complexity of software algorithms, not even the creators of virtual reality might be able to predict what might happen. Decision making algorithms used by companies such as Uber and Amazon are often so complex, that nobody knows why they make the decisions they do.
Once upon a time, art helped us see the world the way artists wanted us to see it.
Soon, we might see the world that software creates.