Published on December 10, 2008 By stubbyfinger In Fiction Writing

December 10, 2033

The following is a explanation of the events and motivations that led to our company’s latest advances in virtual reality and its implications. For the last two decades much of our resources were focused on the meticulous construction of virtual worlds and then adapting them to the available technology. The focus of our company and a passion of mine ever since I played my first game, has always been to create the most immersive experience possible. The ways in which we communicated these worlds has seen two major advancements since the 2D screen, and that was the VR helmet with positional audio and direct ocular projection or DOP.

DOP combined with positional audio is the most realistic experience to date, however for all its realism there were still abundant sensory clues that revealed that you were in a virtual world and that allowed your conscience to be only mildly involved, until now that is. On November 17, 2028 a team researching a cure for paralysis developed a method of completely restoring the two way communication of the body and brain after injury. The device, which is implanted just under the skin at the base of the neck, interprets signals both from the brain and the nerves to the brain and retransmits them bypassing the damaged nerve section.

After almost four years of research, admittedly most of which I don’t understand, we’ve been able to refine the device so it can identify and take over communication of the somatic nervous system and equilibrium signals from the inner ear without surgery, and we’re able to block signals through the skin and retransmit them without damaging the nerves. Sensation, skeletal muscle and equilibrium signals are simple in comparison to taste, smell, hearing and vision so we’ve combined this with direct ocular projection and positional audio. It is these methods combined allows for a very realistic experience.

Before testing we thought that there would still be some sensory clues that would keep the mind conscience of where it was but the first research subjects reported a complete inability to discern the experience from reality. What we discovered was that when enough of the senses are involved the mind fills in any gaps in the experience that would normally reveal the trick. You still have the impossible logic of suddenly being somewhere you know you can't be but it’s astonishing how fast that begins to fade and you accept what you're experiencing as real.

The first time I tried it I have to admit it was a little unsettling. It was one of our battle simulations that we had ported to the new technology, still a fictional battle of course since simulations of historical battles have been banned since 2018. As I made my way through the forest I grabbed a branch and pulled it closer and noticed several ants crawling on its leaves. This was very unusual since I knew they weren’t part of the simulation, so somehow my mind had decided that there should be insects there and created the visual from memory. I was of course fascinated and proceeded to try a few experiments. Next I grabbed the base of a shrub and pulled hard to reveal a fully formed root system that was also not part of the simulation. Then I pushed over a large rock to reveal an assortment of scurrying imaginary insects. Okay what the hell was going on? This was a question that had to be answered before we got to step three, profit.

The first experiments we began were designed to determine how far the mind could deviate from the simulation and how much control could be excised over these deviations. At first the deviations were minor, the added dialog of a VR character and other minor changes but when we introduce sensory cues such as audio of a well known animal from behind the test subjects, they would turn around and see the corresponding animal. The “800lb gorilla” showed up when we introduced the sound of a predator. The subjects fear response was as if they thought the animal was real and could possible harm them. Heart rate and blood pressure shot up and they began to scream out at the hallucination to go away. Fortunately the animal would immediately go away and we assume it was because the subject wanted it to. That at least showed that this subject was in control over their creations but what of other pathologies? We weren’t even sure if the most innocuous of simulations wouldn’t go horrible off script for users who say lacked mental discipline.

For some reason this level of fear had only occurred with elements created by the user. Well an obvious question now was what if the animal did attack?  Would the mind somehow create a pain level equal to what it thought being attacked by a predator would feel like? The neural transmitter was designed to only transmit mild pain signals so the paralysis patient could sense injury but we had adjusted it to transmit no pain signals, for obvious reasons. As far as we like to think we've come in understanding the brain it has still managed to hold on to quite a few of its secrets. If it was possible for the mind to create visual experiences out of thin air was it possible for pain signals to originate in the brain without getting electrical signals from the nerves? We asked with nervous anticipation. Thankfully so far so good, after dozens of experiments and some seriously freaked out test subjects, (not my fault they didn’t read the fine print), we've been unable to produce a pain response no matter what their eyes and ears tell them is happening too them. This was a big relief but we still had a serious problem.

Its not like we had not anticipated some problems, after all we had all seen the movie The Matrix and even DOP usage showed a significant increase in stress amongst the action RPG and FPS gamers. No one had died yet but judging from the increasing number of gaming related anxiety attacks we secretly understood it was just a matter of time before a weak heart gave in to the added stress. We had spent a fortune on attorneys to shield the company but with the stress levels induced with this new level of VR and users running their own scripts, this technology for public use would be on hold until we could determine if whatever was happening here could be too dangerous. Or maybe all we needed were more lawyers.

However the military was a different story, when they heard of this development their interest increased to just short of giddiness. They had already provided considerable funding for what they described as a superior training tool, but were always very careful not to acknowledge its other uses, such as an interrogation method. Basically all the things you couldn't do too someone in reality, could now be done in virtual reality with impunity. Another potential use was placing a human pilot in the new fighter jets virtually. The aircraft were capable of some autonomous missions but the AI wasn’t trusted to go on missions that might need some creative thinking yet. The new aircraft could generate three times the force that would kill a human pilot, so a way to keep them out of the aircraft but still in control was a top priority for the Air Force.

I had written a letter to secretary of defense Palin explaining that if used for the purpose of interrogation they would obtain far more reliable intelligence if it were obtained by tricking the subject into giving the information voluntarily. I even offered to help with its implementation. What a mistake she was, man I wish I could go back in time and warn everyone about that nutty old bat. Anyway we found if you started the VR session without the subject’s knowledge and kept the experience plausible you could guide the subject into a situation where they would tell the truth to someone they trusted. As was discovered the mind would fill in the gaps so it wasn’t necessary to know all the details like whoever that was. 

So here we are now, not much closer to explaining these anomalies and not much closer to making any money. We’re already seeing underground clubs springing up using this technology for VR brothels; could be we’re in the wrong business. We’ve had our suspicions that we have a corporate spy amongst us. From a business standpoint about all we’ve succeeded in doing so far is to give birth to yet another criminal enterprise.

Thing is I really believe that this could really improve the lives of so many. I’ve used it many times and aside from it being a little addicting, have had nothing but rich, positive experiences. The possibilities are wide open in exploring the aspects of human consciousness and could re-write the fields of psychology and neuroscience. It has become an invaluable tool for psychologist for the treatment of several disorders and it could certainly give those with thrill issues a safer alternative. When the astronauts went to Mars much of the world in essence could have gone with them, and in the sharing of the experience connected all of us to this achievement as never before possible. Not to mention with the population growing and with its crushing demands on every dwindling resource, giving people rich, satisfying experiences without leaving home is an excellent way to lighten the load on the planet.

There has been progress but that solution involves the autonomic nervous system and that comes with a whole new set of problems. People might be a little hesitant to let a device interfere with a perfectly good and very important biological function. Come on, just a little control over the adrenal gland and we’re back in business.  



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