Virtual Reality and Computer Simulations

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The Matrix - Virtual Environment

Virtual Reality and Computer Simulations refers to technologies that allow users to interact with and in computer-simulated environments, whether that environment is a simulation of the real world or an imaginary world. Computer Simulations have become more popular in the last couple decades and been used in many ways, like by companies to complete objectives. In 1980, it became possible for users to interact with these simulations. Virtual Reality has greatly increased the amount of information that each of these simulation can provide. Philip Brey is one of the foremost experts in virtual reality and computer simulations and this article discusses his contributions to the realm.

Computer Simulations and their Real-World Use

Computer Simulation

Brey defines a computer simulation as "a computer program that contains a model of a particular (actual or theoretical) system. The program can be executed, simulating changes in the system according to certain parameters, after which the output results of the simulation can be analyzed. Computer simulation is also the name of the discipline in which such models are designed, executed, and analyzed. The models in computer simulations are usually abstract and either are or involve mathematical models[1]. Computer simulations have become extremely popular in the real world. Many companies have used simulations to project and forecast what may occur in the future, so they are able to create plans to deal with possible issues. Besides their prominent uses in mathematics, mostly for creating models, computer simulations are also used in natural and social sciences, as well for education purposes. "Computer simulations are increasingly used in education and training, to familiarize students with the workings of systems and to teach them to interact successfully with such systems[1]."

Intertwining Virtual Reality in Computer Simulations

A major reason that computer simulations have become extremely popular is because of the increase/introduction of virtual reality. The increase of virtual reality has led to the idea of a simulated reality, in which the "idea of reality could be simulated—perhaps by computer simulation—to a degree indistinguishable from "true" reality. It could contain conscious minds which may or may not know that they are living inside a simulation. Simulated reality could be what will connect virtual reality and computer simulations in the future. A virtual environment involves the simulation of objects and attributes of a space, whose components are defined with the unique trait of being interacted with by the user. This is important to note, in distinguishing what makes a virtual simulation distinct from reality. An example of this phenomenon is the idea that a car contains an engine that performs numerous internal processes to create the result of motion that is visible to a passerby. However, in the context of a virtual simulation of the car, from the perspective of the passerby, no such internal processes need exist within the virtual simulation for the simulation to be a valid environment in general. [2]

Flow of Simulation Research

Flow of Simulation Research

Connecting virtual reality and computer simulations, as illustrated above, is extremely important. But how does this information flow exactly and can the level of research be enhanced with this process? As shown in the graph to the right, the process is quite complicated. The research is done and fine-tuned in the lab and then is passed on to the simulation lab, where the code is run and the models are created using computer programs. The models are then passed into the visualization lab, where the feedback is assessed and any other changes are made. If the model is deemed successful, it will be sent to the virtual reality lab to check the virtual representation of the model and create other 3D images/views. If it is not successful it will be sent back to the research lab for improvements. After another cycle or two of the system, the model will eventually be sent out for applicable use.

Virtual Reality and Ethics

Virtual Reality System Glasses

Brey mentions that ethical representations play a large role in virtual reality and these representations are split into three different categories, which are misrepresentations, biased representations, and indecent representations. "Misrepresentation din VR and computer simulation occurs when it is part of the aim of a simulation to realistically depict aspects of the real world, yet the simulation fails to accurately depict these features. A biased representation is a representation that unfairly disadvantages certain individuals or groups or that unjustifiably promotes certain values or interests over others.Indecent representations are representations that are considered shocking or offensive or that are held to break established rules of good behavior or morality and that are somehow shocking to the senses or moral sensibilities[1].

Behavior in Virtual Environments - Ethical Issues

A student at Iowa State University in a Virtual Reality Room

Can actions that take place in virtual environments and computer simulations actually be unethical? The press at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology put out a blurb about constitutes ethical behavior, what doesn't, and how their students should be looking out for the differences. "As scientific laboratories are an important domain of application of VR technology, ethical issues of VR have to be discussed with respect to research and the treatment of research subjects. Exposing participants to VR systems may raise ethical problems due to motion sickness, information overload, intensification of experience, and difficulties with reentry into the real world. The ethical guidelines which are typically applied to psychological research do not cover all of these problems in detail and have to be reconsidered, since they have not been developed with regard to the use of VR systems. Therefore, practical strategies to cope with the addressed ethical problems in VR research are recommended[3]." Brey talks about the four different areas in which unethical behavior might occur. They are:

  • Avatars, Agency, and Identity
  • Single-User Virtual Reality
  • Multiuser Virtual Reality
  • Virtual Property and Virtual Economies

Do We Live In A Computer Simulation?

As computer simulations have become more and more popular, some people believe that they are taking over in everyday life. Nick Bostrom, director of the Future of Humanity Institute, at Oxford University, believes this is case. He believes that we are running more and more simulations everyday and eventually they will overtake the human process of doing work. The three propositions that he created include:

  • 1) Almost all civilisations at our level of development become extinct before becoming technologically mature.
  • 2) The fraction of technologically mature civilisations that are interested in creating ancestor simulations is almost zero.
  • 3) You are almost certainly living in a computer simulation.

According to Bostrom, at least one of the three propositions above must be true at all times. "If it is correct, you are almost certainly living in a computer simulation that was created by some advanced civilisation. What Copernicus and Darwin and latter-day scientists have been discovering are the laws and workings of the simulated reality. These laws might or might not be identical to those operating at the more fundamental level of reality where the computer that is running our simulation exists (which, of course, may itself be a simulation). In a way, our place in the world would be even humbler than we thought. If we are in a simulation, could ever know for certain? If the simulators don’t want us to find out, we probably never will. But if they choose to reveal themselves, they could certainly do so. Another event that would let us conclude with a high degree of confidence that we are in a simulation is if we ever reach a point when we are about to switch on our own ancestor simulations. That would be very strong evidence against the first two propositions, leaving us only with the third[4]."

See Also

External Links


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Brey, Philp. "Virtual Reality and Computer Simulation." The Handbook of Information and Computer Ethics. Ed. Kenneth E. Himma and Herman T. Tavani. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2008. 361-84.
  2. Brey, 1999, The ethics of representation and action in virtual reality,
  3. Katharina-Maria Behr, Andreas Nosper, Christoph Klimmt, and Tilo Hartmann. 2005. Some practical considerations of ethical issues in VR research. Presence: Teleoper. Virtual Environ. 14, 6 (December 2005), 668-676. DOI=10.1162/105474605775196535
  4. Simulation Arguement

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