Virtual reality rate-of-time preference conflicts

Suppose we believe futurists who anticipate that someday, we (or our descendants) will gradually replace our brains with computers that are trillions of times more powerful, and we will spend much of our time interacting in virtual reality, unencumbered by the annoyances of physical space (like the need to travel).

The general assumption is that we would use our new brain/computer power to make ourselves much more intelligent. But it also might be possible to use some of the power to speed up our perception of reality. So, one might enter a virtual reality space and have an experience, perhaps participation in what Nick Bostrom calls an ancestor simulation, that feels like a hundred years in a second or two.

The problem is that different people might have different preferences about how quickly they want to perceive the world. Larry might want to have a billion-to-one ratio of perceived time to real time, because he wants to have as many experiences as quickly as possible. His wife Cheryl, though, might prefer to live only in real time (whether in real or virtual space), pointing out that with the miraculous improvements in medical science that occurred at the same time as virtual reality, we’ll all live to have plenty of experiences eventually anyway. This could put some real strains on Larry and Cheryl’s marriage. Even if he only spends a few minutes a day in virtual reality, he would be living only a tiny percentage of his existence with Cheryl (or at least with the real Cheryl). On the other hand, if he picks his virtual reality simulation carefully, he won’t need Cheryl or anyone else to be entitled to use the HOV lane.

How will individuals mediate such conflicts? Should the legislature step in and mandate that everyone perceive reality at the same rate?

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2 Responses

  1. Frank says:

    Yes. For reasons I explore in my 2 Concepts of Immortality article, the type of superhumans envisioned by Kurzweil/Bostrom/ et al. would make today’s digital divide look like a crack in the sidewalk. As Max Mehlman’s 2000 Iowa L. Rev. Article “Leveling the Genetic Enhancement Playing Field” suggests, the types of advantages the “speeded up” could gain over the “naturals” merit intervention here.

    PS–great issue to bring up. Joel Garreau portrays such issues very sharply, in, of all places, an imagined law school classroom of 2015 (in the book Radical Evolution).

  2. Patrick S. O'Donnell says:

    With all due respect to Frank, and while perhaps harmless as science fiction, such speculations are beyond the pale when it comes to the philosophy of mind, the best of which reminds us that the mind is not reducible to the brain, nor the brain to a computer. One can only shake one’s head at the reference to brains and computers in the beginning of the post and to ‘individuals’ in the final paragraph. See, for instance, Sunny Y. Auyang’s Mind in Everyday Life and Cognitive Science (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000) or Bennett and Hacker’s Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience (Malden, MA: Blakcwell, 2003) for why we would be better off not believing such futurists, for their fantasies are constructed of rather flimsy materials and thus without sufficient foundation (i.e., untenable presuppositions and unwarranted assumptions).