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With the release of the Microsoft Hololens and the Oculus Rift and other VR related gear, it is becoming evident that this is the future of computing. My story, set on Earth in the future, takes the route that VR becomes so realistic with the addition of nerve stimulators (insert them into the spinal cord via surgery and they can give your body the impression of being there. Imagine not only seeing the beach, but feeling the breeze and smelling the sea from you Illinois living room) that once someone goes into the VR world they don't want to leave.

7/10 of the world population enters but refuse to leave. The VR suits and headgear are attached to your body and slowly convert your body into energy to fuel the simulations. This was originally good, since the designers didn't expect or recommend days-long exposure to the system.

The suits and head gear are tapped into the spinal cord and other bodily functions. Any attempted removal of the gear will most certainly cause injury. The gear was intended to be removed when the user decided to leave by measuring the activity in the brain.

The survivors are left with a declining and degrading infrastructure. Even lead government officials enter and refuse to leave.

Assuming generations pass, and humanity eventually recovers, it is obvious we will ban VR as it is too dangerous to keep around.

How else might society be affected for the worse and for the better? Is it conceivable that we will shun computational technology altogether because of this apocalyptic event?

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    $\begingroup$ This is when you go into the VR settings and change the "Spiders and Wasps spawn rate setting" up 2 million percent, and watch everyone get out of there in a hurry. $\endgroup$ – Dan Smolinske May 1 '15 at 19:14
  • $\begingroup$ Such a world is explored in several books of the Pendragon series, most notably The Reality Bug. It's not a very in-depth exploration - it's a YA series - but might be worth taking a look at nonetheless. $\endgroup$ – Chaosed0 May 4 '15 at 14:42
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    $\begingroup$ @Chaosed0 Read that series already. I got inspiration for this from that series. $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat May 4 '15 at 14:45
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    $\begingroup$ Thought the premise sounded familiar. Nice to know there are others who've read the series :) $\endgroup$ – Chaosed0 May 4 '15 at 14:50
  • $\begingroup$ Also a plot point in various episodes of Red Dwarf, where the Better Than Life virtual environments have created various social problems. $\endgroup$ – glenatron May 5 '15 at 16:09
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Smoking has statistically dire consequences on its users, and as such is regulated in many ways. Going with the numbers as is, a 70% die off suggests that the systems are abundant and popular enough that potential regulating authorities were ensnared beyond some sort of tipping point that might have made this preventable. It's the plague that everybody wants to participate in.

In all this, there would be a hard kernel of resistance. I suppose this could have overtones of religious fundamentalism, as in the example set by the Sovereign territories in the Surrogates franchise. It is possible to have electronic computers be banned entirely, as what happened following the Butlerian Jihad in the Dune series - but I seriously doubt that this would be the actual course of action taken. Having only 30% of humanity remaining, we will need every edge we can get.

It seems to me that the most likely course of action is the simplest one, and that would be to outlaw the total body VR interface. By limiting the input/output options to more ordinary forms of Human Machine Interface, the situation resolves itself rather handily. Extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary measures, though - the full interfaces could still be authorized in cases deemed too cruel to otherwise allow, such as in the case of advanced physical disabilities.

New governments (or non-governments?) would form; the world map would become unrecognizable in short order as the remainder of humanity attempts to regain what is lost. Collaborative efforts would take place over what is left of the internet, probably utilizing basic VR as a medium to hold events that look a lot like town meetings, to discuss best practices, share locations, and in general reach out and make contact - the world just got a lot emptier.

The young governments have hell waiting for them - warlords, despots, and "prophets" the world over would be taking opportunity of the situation to draw people into their folds, consolidating power and making a play for absolute control over whatever it is their greedy little minds want most. Life out in the remainder is cheaper than usual. Ghost towns are normal. Fleets of vehicles rove the world trying to find a workable population center to join - other groups of wild people think they are playing the starring roles in Mad Max.

On the whole, humanity weeps, reconnects with itself, and does the one thing it has always been able to do - move on.

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I suppose this should really be a comment rather than an answer, but since I can't make paragraphs in comments...

First, I think your assumption that VR is the future of computing is just plain wrong. VR is the future of VR. It may well become, as others have pointed out, the future of gaming. However, there are a great many things done with computers that have nothing to do with VR or gaming. (Except that I now can buy massively parallel GPU processors for a couple hundred bucks.)

Second wrong assumption is that immersive VR is going to appeal to anything like 7/10 of the population. It's much more likely to appeal to the small segment that are hard-core gamers now - the sort who stereotypically live in their parents' basement, and only come out to pick up new equipment. At the other end, you have a lot of people (like me) to whom a computer is basically work, with our real lives having little or nothing to do with tech of any sort.

Third (and I admit to a bit of a prejudice here) the people to whom this immersive VR appeals are not going to be the ones who have important functions in infrastructure support. So if they immerse themselves, and eventually die, pretty much all that will happen is that the overpopulation problem will be somewhat alleviated. Seriously, would you really miss that guy in your neighbors' basement?

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  • $\begingroup$ You seem to be underestimating how easy it is to fall into this sort of addiction. Imagine after a full day of work, to have the chance to relax in a sunny beach, for cheap: it feels good, doesn't it? maybe tomorrow you'll want to visit the place again, for 5 minutes more. What's evil in 5 more minutes of relax, after an hard day's work? One week later, you manage to fit in 15 minutes on top of the usual 30 minutes. One month later, you'll go to VR in your lunch break. Six month later, you'll disconnect only to go to work. It's a spiral, expecially when it's easy, available and cheap to obtain $\endgroup$ – STT LCU May 21 '15 at 13:48
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First off, your assumption that "it [VR] is becoming evident that this is the future of computing" is not necessarily true. We have no idea what the future of technology is (obviously) and if I were to take a guess, VR would not be it!

BUT if we decide to accept that VR is the way to go and take everything in this scenario as fact, the biggest effect on society would be the fact that 7/10 of the population is dead. Generations later, history books would tell of the "VR days", "When 70% of humanity was annihilated by computers strapped to their spines".

No I don't think we would shun technology. Think of the US... We get in wars all the time and don't mind guns. New Orleans gets massive floods if a hurricane hits just the right way but Cajuns don't move. The point being: eventually people would come to realize that doing away with tech isn't the answer, but using it responsibly is.

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  • $\begingroup$ VR might not be the future of computing (and probably not any time soon) but its my belief that VR will definitely be the future of gaming. Though we will probably have to go through the generation of the AGI first, hopefully. All the designers have to do is create the avatars to mimic real life bodies as close as possible. I agree that people wont shun technology. $\endgroup$ – Necessity May 1 '15 at 23:36
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It seems really unlikely any successful society would reject technology. Any segment that deviated from the neo-Luddites would have so many advantages they would surely become dominant over time. And forbidding recreational activities seems like a lost cause. Rules might be made, but they would be broken by a significant portion of the population. However, there are a lot of other ways to take such a story.

People will need something to blame, and the plausible scapegoats will vary depending on how the deadly technology became so pervasive - it sounds expensive and facially implausible that 70% of (the world? a particular country?) would be able to afford and decide to spend their money on elective surgery. Did the government mandate the technology? Then perhaps people would change government forms. Did countries with different types of government (democracy, communist, monarchy, dictator, etc.) have different proportions of their population affected?

Was the technology required to get a job? International teleconferencing for executives, all the way to interfacing with fast food apps for those who flip burgers perhaps. Then society might respond by forbidding VR use at work, while continuing to allow recreational use - so only those with excess cash could afford it.

Or, from another angle, was the susceptibility to staying inside VR genetic? (Comparable to alcoholism having a genetic component.) The recovered society might develop a test for the genetic susceptiblity and forbid certain couples from having children, or set up those children as VR slaves to do work that is most efficient in VR, or require those who are susceptible to be killed in order to protect society from the risk of another collapse.

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Your image of the future of VR is a coal-powered rocket to the Moon.

"Space travel would soon be banned because the amount of smoke generated would poison the humanity"

I believe total VR immersion with only scarce "outside tourism" and few "hermits" living out of VR is the inevitable future of the humanity.

Socializing, "white-collar jobs", education, entertainment, this all would benefit from moving to VR. And for blue-collar, it will be easier and more efficient to operate telepresence machinery than working in person on "real jobs". The only purpose of leaving the VR will remain in tourism - wanting to "see the world for real" and "be there in person". Everything is easier in VR and people are lazy by nature; as soon as kinks are straightened out, the new "lazy" way always takes over.

Along with growth of the VR technology, including neural connectors, associated technology of "accessories" will grow as well. At first it will be "long-immersion seats" fulfilling basic biological needs. At time they will be replaced by ones that prevent atrophy, and finally they will become fully-featured life-support systems that provide full medical care, all biological needs, and can even carry sperm between a pair of people who never met but live in a relationship in the VR, then pick the infant and place in the net from moment one. All teaching and training, including muscle memories, would be performed in VR.

Edit: What happens to the society that has moved to VR?

First, since your body needs a couple grams of soylent-style preparate and one VR pod, about a cubic meter of volume, plus some electricity, demand for material goods drops vastly. Hardly anyone needs land, physical wealth and such.

Humanity lives in huge underground "farms" of VR pods; the surface is a mix of solar power plants, automated farmland, research facilities and relatively few mining and industrial operations; many places of the world are focused on tourism, providing anything from dangerous challenges, through ancient art and impressive nature, plus the best "RL" has to offer in terms of cuisine etc. Still, most of Earth is uninhabited and turned to natural wilderness.

Since physical property is in so little demand, life in the VR revolves around "creative goods" and "intellectual property". Art, entertainment and clever design combining aesthetics and functionality are valuable. Knowledge - science, engineering, research - are quite valuable too. Since costs of living are so low, work is entirely optional - something for the benefit of these, who want more than "standard" - say, custom-made "virtual goods" like designer avatars, or specially tailored "virtual appliances", user interfaces to all kinds of functionalities. But everyone has free access to everything "standard" and there's a plenty of free content - since you don't need money to stay warm, safe and full, you can sacrifice your time to creating, demanding only appreciation in return if such is your wish.

Blue-collar jobs are nearly gone; about anything of that kind can be done better by computers. The few that remain are well paid - because few people want to do them (and demand for cash isn't all that high either).

Essentially, the society - seemingly - approaches utopia where nobody goes hungry, ill or homeless, you can shape your world with your mind, and you are fit and healthy physically at all times too. Possibly even immortal?

Then imagine the crime world. Illicit downloads? d'oh, baby play. Think of illegal "mind-altering" software that can either act as super-drugs giving bliss one never wants to escape, or as a weapon. There would still be conflicts, jealousy, hate, wars of doctrines - and as result, demand for means of forcing the others to comply. Maybe physical, through security against that would be tight. But more commonly virtual. Force mind-wrecking fear, or just dictate the brain to stop sending pulses to the heart, or implant some idea, even idea of endless obedience. Or hack the security systems and bomb a block of a million pods.

The move to VR would resolve most of current problems of the humanity, but it would only escalate these problems that humans cause to other humans.

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  • $\begingroup$ While your answer displays a few good ideas, it does not answer the question. Saying "it is a coal powered rocket to the moon" does not answer how it would effect society after the 'great collapse' mentioned in my question. $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat May 4 '15 at 13:11
  • $\begingroup$ @DJMethaneMan: The collapse is something extremely unlikely. If you are in VR, you can still control physical robots and you make sure you can stay in VR without worry about it failing. Someone must still provide new, interesting content, and is willing to create it in exchange for having their VR gear well-functioning, so economy still lives. See my edit for the alternate future. $\endgroup$ – SF. May 4 '15 at 13:47
  • $\begingroup$ You are still not understanding the essence of my question. The question is a 'what if' scenario and I have purposely not included the reality-check tag. $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat May 4 '15 at 13:54
  • $\begingroup$ @DJMethaneMan: Then I'm sorry but my imagination refuses premises as implausible. There's a hundred turns the humanity could have taken while the crisis was brewing, to avert it - but suddenly everyone picked an idiot ball and stopped paying attention to the developing critical problem - or began contributing to it, seeing the consequences already. Oh, and nobody in the more conservative, third world countries exploited the weakness of the first world. It's impossible to imagine how society suddenly starts behaving rationally after a few decades of collectively acting like utter idiots. $\endgroup$ – SF. May 4 '15 at 14:32
  • $\begingroup$ @DJMethaneMan: It's a matter of predicting behavior of someone basing on what we know about that person. If they start acting out of character, they become unpredictable. For me, this whole crisis is the humanity acting out of character, ignoring any whistleblowers and escalating the problem completely oblivious to consequences. Things aren't done that way in reality, so if we twist the reality to fit the premise, we must ditch the whole "rational humanity" concept - and so the society becomes unpredictable. $\endgroup$ – SF. May 4 '15 at 14:41

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