Jaron Lanier on the Rise of Virtual Reality | VR Life

Jaron Lanier: Founder of Virtual Reality Warns of Misuse

Jaron Lanier

It would have been expected of Jaron Lanier to be excited right now. Over 30 years since his ground-breaking effort in virtual reality, the technology at last seems to be on the brink of turning into a mass-market experience. Big companies are investing in the technology, high-profile goods are arriving at the store shelves, and different types of developers are making VR experiences.

But Lanier seems to have been having worries Over the sudden and continued rise of virtual reality.

Jaron Lanier Airs Out Concerns Over Possible Misuse of Virtual Reality

But instead of Lanier to be happy with all of these, he is extremely troubled. He is worried in particular about how virtual-reality technology may give more control in the custody of a very few number of already influential companies.

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Jaron Lanier

“We can’t keep on pretending that this isn’t a gigantic problem,” John Lanier told Troy Wolverton of The Mercury News. “We have more power than we can handle.”

When asked about his thoughts on Daydream, Google’s attempt to establish a regulation for virtual reality on smartphones, Lanier expressed doubts on the matter, saying that there have been several conflicts of interest. He works as a scientist at Microsoft Research, one of Google’s rivals. Google bought the technology possessed by one of his companies. Lanier knows a lot of the people who work for Google on some of their virtual-reality projects and some who work for other companies.

Even though Lanier did not want to appraise any company’s specific VR endeavor, he was willing to talk about the hazards he sees in how the technology is evolving.

“This, more than the (artificial intelligence) stuff, is where we’re going to face the greatest ethical challenge in coming years,” he declared.

One of Lanier’s worries comes from the type and amount of information gathered by virtual-reality systems. To do what it is expected to do, these systems will have to dig deeper into each user’s engagements, where their attention is and what they are reacting to. As a result, the system and the companies that use them end up knowing more than they should and are even able to predict user behavior and know their medical conditions.


Companies at the Forefront

The companies at the forefront of the VR game include Google, with Cardboard and Daydream; Facebook, with Oculus; Samsung, which is working together with both Facebook and Google; Sony; HTC and Steam, which have worked together on the HTC Vive; and Microsoft. A lot of these companies have already gathered a lot of record on their users, and the VR tech will only add to their trove.

And for Jaron Lanier, this is a big deal especially considering that a lot of the companies’ businesses rotate around advertising, which to him, is all about manipulating actions.

It has been established by social science researchers that people’s behavior can be influenced by the kind of feedback they get.


By placing users in planets that can be as convincing and engrossing as the real one, with fresh methods of making available exciting feedback, VR will make available to companies fresh methods to influence their users — possibly without the users being aware of the manipulation or at least the degree of it.

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