Moral and ethical concerns have begun to arise from both virtual reality and augmented reality because of the way it can impact and even trick our perceptions.
For example, experts have expressed concerns about the booming virtual reality pornography industry because it opens doors for users to experience fantasies with their real life partners in ways that they wouldn’t agree to in real life which is raising questions about consent. Other concerns include the resemblance to using virtual reality to cheating, the ability to engage in extreme, violent, and degrading fantasies, as well as the realism of models being used for revenge.
While these issues are somewhat apparent, there is a subtler form of impact that virtual and augmented reality is having on our minds and our culture, especially as it pertains to crime.
Traditionally, we may read about a crime in a newspaper or on a website. We get the gist of what’s happened, and we know whether or not the perpetrator has been caught. Some creative thinkers might envision the situation–the time, place, weather–but human perception is vague.
Applications now exist that can show locations of crimes overlaid onto the real-world place using mobile phones and augmented reality. One such example of an application like this is SpotCrime which shows users icons that are representative of specific crimes within their surroundings. The app shows different photos for theft, burglary, assault, and other common crimes–all with the intention to make users feel safer and more informed.
A recent paper released by AoIR called “Augmented Criminality–How Mobile Augmented Crime Overlays Affect People’s Sense of Place” by Tony Chung-Li Liao and colleagues explains that this usage of augmented reality may have the opposite of the intended effect, and instead negatively impact users perception of their safety within a space versus being informed via other methods.
The researchers compared the differences in emotional reactions and imaginings within a space when delivering information about a crime to participants via two methods–text message and through an augmented reality overlay.
They found that users who received crime information via an augmented reality overlay were more inclined to have a stronger emotional reaction to the event and the location, pay more attention to their surroundings, and to mentally recreate more vivid scenarios of what they believed happened at the crime scene.
It makes sense–this sort of immersion has been folly for crime tourism for centuries.
But this finding does raise other questions. Where do we draw the line with augmented and virtual reality, or do we? How do we know when it helps us or hurts us?
Augmented reality has been used in crime in ways that most people would view as beneficial.
Dutch police forces have begun trialing augmented reality at crime scenes. Benefits to this include having expert feedback to officers already on the scene, even before those experts can be present. This immediate exchange of information via augmented reality could help citizens feel safer and help police do their jobs more efficiently.
Many ethical questions as well as information about the true effects of augmented and virtual reality will arise in the coming decades. When does it help? When does it hurt? And how do we blend such realistic, interactive fantasies with our real lives and within what sort of morality?