poly: Why so much anonymous virtual reality?

From: Robin Hanson <hanson@econ.berkeley.edu>
Date: Fri Feb 20 1998 - 13:30:23 PST

I see list member David Friedman is going to give a talk next
Wednesday based on his paper:
So perhaps he is receptive to discussing this topic a bit now.
I know other list members David Brin and Tim May (if he's still here)
also have strong interests in this topic.

The basic argument is that we are entering a world of strong privacy,
due to crypto, high-bandwidth nets, and virtual reality.

David says:
>The year is 2010. From the viewpoint of an observer, I am alone in >my
office, wearing goggles and earphones. From my viewpoint I am at >a table
in a conference room with a dozen other people. The other >people are
real-seated in offices scattered around the world. The >table and the room
exist only in the mind of a computer. The scene >is being drawn, at a rate
of sixty frames a second, on my goggles-a >little differently for each
eye, to give three dimensional vision. >The meeting is virtual but, to my
sight and hearing, it might as >well be real. It is sufficiently real for
the purposes of a large >fraction of human interactions-consulting,
teaching, meeting. There >is little point to shuttling people around the
world when you can >achieve the same effect by shuttling electrical
signals instead. As >wide band networks and sufficiently powerful
computers become >generally available, a large part of our communication
will shift >to cyberspace.

It seems to me that this last claim is the weakest point in the analysis.
If a large part of our communcations are not via VR, then
we may not have much privacy.

As I see it, you have two kinds of persona. One is your familiar
type, associated with your physical body, house, and the people you meet,
work with, and socialize in person. These persona are getting more and
more public, as people habitually wear recording devices and as watching
devices fill the physical world around us. Just ask Monica.

The other sort of persona can be private when acted out alone in your
tempest-rated room talking over the net in ways that are uncorrelated with
your familiar types of persona. My skepticism is regarding how
much of our lives will really be acted out via persona uncorrelated
with our familiar ones.

We currently enjoy correlating our many personas. We tell our lovers
about our work, we tell our friends about our lovers, we tell our
children about our hobbies, we go drinking with co-workers, we watch
movies with friends, and tell co-workers about books we've read.

But if do very much of this sort of correlating behavior with persona
pairs where one of them is a virtual persona on the net, and the other is
in the familiar increasingly-documented real world, your virtual persona
will no longer be private. If even the times when
you go into your tempest-rated room correlate with the active times
of some virtual persona, the connection can be made. If the cadence
of your speech at the grocery store correlates with the cadence of
your speech in a virtual world, the connection can be made.

It seems to me that to have a long-lived yet private virtual persona
requires an unusual discipline regarding keeping this persona's behavior
uncorrelated with your other ones. To most people, I don't
think privacy is worth this effort.

Beyond this are issues that virtual reality is not going to be as
comfortable or convenient for many things for a good long time to come,
and the signaling problem that people may take the choice to use a private
persona in many relationships as a sign that you
have something to hide.

Robin Hanson
hanson@econ.berkeley.edu http://hanson.berkeley.edu/
RWJF Health Policy Scholar, Sch. of Public Health 510-643-1884
140 Warren Hall, UC Berkeley, CA 94720-7360 FAX: 510-643-8614
Received on Fri Feb 20 21:38:13 1998

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