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Premise

Please ladies and gentlemen, draw your eyes to our plight. Sometime in the future on Earth our society has not reached post-scarcity but has achieved:

  • a reliable and inexpensive power source. Everyone's personal needs are covered for free when it comes to utilities
  • refined AIs permeate all tasks. They are extremely effective at processing complex information and finding new models to solve the given problem but are not sentient or self-aware.
  • all citizens have a brain-computer interface (BCI) (some call it direct neural link technology, but I don't like that definition; see here). The BCI is the ideal tool to interact and release the full potential of AIs. Also by right is the connection to the network. Note: they fought hard for these rights. If you don't have BCI it's like being an analphabet in the XXI century
  • complex, enticing virtual reality (VR) has been built and goes on being expanded every day. The connection to it is also available to all citizens for free. Through the BCI you can taste a glass of Échezeaux, spend a night with a supermodel, fly in a Sopwith Camel, create your own worlds, live in all sorts of MMORPGs... all for very low fees (there is a lot of competition in VR, creating content is the fastest growing job position nowadays after all)

At the moment most people are still working normally and society is stable, but a concerning trend is emerging. Projections show that younger generations are spending more and more time in VR. Underachieving in their studies (with a BCI you can have all the facts you want at your fingertips, but you still need to learn how to think) and jobs. Granted, a small percentage of people will go on functioning in the real world because they are driven by their passion. Others will fare well by working inside the virtual reality: creating worlds, and trends and people.

But all projections show that the wide majority would be just stuck in virtual reality, becoming largely unproductive. Society simply can not afford this.

How can we prevent most of mankind to resort to doing the bare minimum to survive and spend the rest of their time in the virtual world?

The most obvious solution: raise the 'bare minimum' by increasing the cost of the services. But this has two most likely dangerous outcomes:

  • lots of people are going to react strongly against it
  • extremist political parties are going to exploit this unrest to push forward their political agenda. Some senators are already talking of 'Mankind Compact'

Please note that "strong hand" solutions (forcing them to work by the police or an army of robots or working camps like Arbeitslager) would not be viable. The work needed is not low level (that must be done by machines), but the kind that needs a human heart and mind to be done.

Please note: the question Will sufficiently advanced societies ultimately embrace living in a simulated world? is certainly related, but very different. The premise here makes it clear that in this society the real world would collapse if too many of its citizens were to live in VR.

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    $\begingroup$ If your technology is that advanced how much human labor do you really need? $\endgroup$ – John Jul 24 '20 at 14:17
  • $\begingroup$ @John an estimate of 80% of the labor force should be employed for society to be very healthy. 60% would have dire consequences on the economy. Less than 50% and the system would collapse. Projections are showing that in a decade more than 50% of labor force would be addicted to VR. We have to do something! $\endgroup$ – Duncan Drake Jul 24 '20 at 14:38
  • $\begingroup$ If your technology is that advanced there are almost no jobs humans can do better than automation, more importantly there will not be many jobs you actually need humans for, you will have to have something like universal income just to have an economy. $\endgroup$ – John Jul 24 '20 at 14:49
  • $\begingroup$ I don't agree. In this world a large workforce is still needed. We need nurses and doctors, engineers, skilled technicians, economists, designers, cooks, archaeologists, poets, politicians and even geologists. Machines help and have taken over a number of tasks but new jobs have opened up. $\endgroup$ – Duncan Drake Jul 24 '20 at 15:15
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    $\begingroup$ Arrange jobs in VR. Perhaps making it seem like competitive play in VR. $\endgroup$ – NomadMaker Jul 24 '20 at 16:00
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My question is: how to prevent most of mankind to resort to doing the bare minimum to survive and spend the rest of their time in the Virtual World?

You don't. I stead of fighting against the trend, profit from it. See How to monetize uploaded consciousness? , specifically my answer to it.

If people who want to waste their time away with videogames, social media and Q&A sites be locked in the Matrix for escapism, then the only way for them to contribute to society economically is by being commodities. Those outside will keep the world going - no trickle down economics, though - it's the essential workers outside the matrix that keep people alive and the economy running.

I realize this is evil of the modern kind. But if people don't like it then they have to change the system itself from inside out.

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  • $\begingroup$ real jobs in fictional games is already a real thing, VR jobs seems completely plausible. $\endgroup$ – John Jul 24 '20 at 14:54
  • $\begingroup$ I don't understand whether you are arguing that prevention of addiction is impossible, or that such prevention is unwanted? $\endgroup$ – cowlinator Jul 25 '20 at 0:26
  • $\begingroup$ @cowlinator prevention will be unwanted by those who profit from addiction. $\endgroup$ – The Square-Cube Law Jul 25 '20 at 5:41
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You encourage people with the same things we have always been encouraged by: food, water, procreation, comforts and status.

You dont allow people to remove their body's real feelings. So you still feel the (dis)comforts of not eating enough, sitting wrong in a chair, dying from dehydration because you stop caring for yourself etc. This feeds into people's natural drives to make sure they regularily take off their VR and do real-life stuff like excersise, eat and drink.

You dont allow people to eat real food with a VR overlay. This way the people taste exquisite things in the VR and get used to those exquisite things. But they still have to eat regular food outside the VR. This drives people to do work so they can get more "good" food. Also since eating food inside the VR is just taste and wont satisfy hunger (or only momentarily satisfies hunger) it wont be as fulfilling as real food.

Put people in haptic movement suits. This way you can let the person excersise himself while in the VR. Added bonus is that you'll exit the VR more often as well. If you've ever seen a VR stream you'll notice they'll often take it off to have a drink.

Use biology. You can make your VR sex fantasies come true, but in the end there is that lack of a possibility for real pregnancy. People will be driven outside the VR and go for the real thing whenever they are ready for a child. This will also mean that people will have to deal with their real selves, and will want the space and comforts to deal with each other properly.

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  • $\begingroup$ As long as the VR provides the users with dopamine, they are fine with eating junk food, not having real sex and generally doing nothing else but playing in VR. That's also why WHO had to declare gaming addiction a mental disorder - there are people who play games so often they are unable to function in real life and that's going on just with today's gaming platforms that provide less immersive experience than advanced VR. Also, not even the need for procreation will drive the users to seek real life partners, when they have VR porn and sex dolls available. $\endgroup$ – Prieforprook Jul 24 '20 at 13:30
  • $\begingroup$ @prieforprook you are basically saying "addiction exists now, so 100% will have it when its advanced and no one will want babies anymore". There will naturally be a portion that will get addicted no matter what, but that does not mean everyone will be addicted or even playing many of the games. Also I dont think you are old enough to understand that there is a pretty big drive in mankind to get actual live children. $\endgroup$ – Demigan Jul 24 '20 at 14:18
  • $\begingroup$ I am bascially saying "addiction exists now and it will 100% only get worse and more widespread with the described technology and that relying on people to combat it themselves would fail since humans are not the rational beings they think they are, and the idea that most of them would feel the need to excercise, while they can enjoy any luxury imaginable, is laughable". Also, I don't think you know anything about me, so keep you assumptions to yourself. $\endgroup$ – Prieforprook Jul 24 '20 at 21:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Prieforprook I am specifically tapping into the exact things that make humans tick. Also you are projecting your own apparent lack of childwish on the rest of mankind, even though large amounts of mankind is well capable of avoiding childbirth if they want. Why wouldnt they avoid it? $\endgroup$ – Demigan Jul 24 '20 at 22:22
  • $\begingroup$ Once again, you don't know whether I want children or not, assume I don't, and call it "apparent". It's false. But to answer the question why would people who don't really want children have them anyways, there are two factors: social presure (it's expected of them by the society and also by themselves; it's just what people do) and meaning of life (passing on the genes is percieved as major goal of every living creature's life). Also, it's worth noting that my first comment was regarding the addicts, not the whole population - perhaps it was unclear. $\endgroup$ – Prieforprook Jul 24 '20 at 22:44
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Basically, you can look at how societies and governments try to abolish drugs.

  • The governments may run country-wide campaigns depicting the dangers. In Europe, for example, tobaco product packings must carry intentionally disturbing images of consequences of smoking, making it less appealing to the youth. The campaign may also include public advertisements - even in the VR itself.
  • If there's any dominant religion in your world, the church may use its influence to warn the believers about such digital addiction. The religion might even encorporate digital ascetism as core concept, much like our religions also prohibit alcohol, or mind-altering substances in general.
  • The teachers may educate their students on the dangers. I still remember the one time our teacher brought two drug addicts to the class to talk to us; one of them was clearly suffering of withdrawal symptoms and it was quite disturbing and memorable event.
  • The parents may be encouraged to discuss the issue with teenagers.
  • In your world you could also create a philosophical movement for digital ascetism and possibly also related subculture, much like straight edge movement (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straight_edge).
  • The tabloids may bring stories about celebrities struggling with addiction and withdrawal.

The difference is that our societies tries to abolish drugs completely, while in this case, the fictional society would only attempt to limit its usage to a degree where the widespread addiction not threatening the socio-economical model.

Also, note that war on drugs is failing everywhere and the addicts will always exist, no matter how rare. They are mostly despised by the society (with the exception of organizations trying to help them), but they exist and new ones are appearing despite all the warnings.

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The critical question you need to answer is why the great majority of people would want to do this in the first place? Sure, you have some that will, just as today we have a small fraction of the population that spend all their time in their parents' basement playing video games.

If we assume for the sake of discussion that (against all experience) this is the actual situation, then just realize that it is a self-correcting problem. The civilization DOES collapse, the wirehead majority die off when their life support systems cease to function, and the small percentage that can function in the real world survives to build a new civilization on the ruins.

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    $\begingroup$ I think it's obvious why the majority of people want this. Wireheading is the ultimate drug, theme-park, and hedonistic wet dream all in one package. Not many people would be able to turn down an offer of "infinite pleasure" or "no suffering" if you gave them a taste of it. $\endgroup$ – Dragongeek Jul 24 '20 at 14:17
  • $\begingroup$ Similarilly, why would great majority of people want to use social media? $\endgroup$ – Prieforprook Jul 24 '20 at 21:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Dragongeek: But if we look at the world as it is today, we see that there are a lot of people who don't use drugs (even legal ones), or use them in moderation. Likewise, there are lots of people who don't attend theme parks, and probably a lot more adults who wouldn't if they weren't nagged into it by their kids. Can't comment on hedonistic wet dreams due to lack of experience, but most people either don't use social media at all, or only use it to a limited extent. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jul 24 '20 at 23:20
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    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf I think more people use drugs than you think, particularly if you include coffee/caffeine and cigarettes (~25% of Chinese men smoke regularly). Combine this with the fact that many people use drugs despite rather intense side effects like hangovers or withdrawal--wireheading wouldn't have these side effects and be physiologically "healthy". Furthermore, the number of people who regularly use internet porn is extremely high. If acessing VR porn were as easy as it is to look at conventional porn on any internet-enabled device today, usage would rise to new heights $\endgroup$ – Dragongeek Jul 24 '20 at 23:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Dragongeek: As I said, people use those drugs IN MODERATION. They may enjoy occasional or even regular use, but they don't allow them to dominate their lives to the exclusion of other necessary and/or enjoyable activities. I'm also extremely skeptical of the claim that the number of internet porn users is "extremely high", but the same caveat applies: most do it as recreation rather than something that dominates their lives. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jul 25 '20 at 5:21
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You don't. Nature will solve the problem for you (although maybe you can help out a bit)!

In your scenario, people are spending more and more time in virtual worlds and less time in the real world. People are focusing their "real world" time on direct survival needs--food, water, shelter--but letting the virtual world take over the higher needs. Furthermore, this VR can provide pleasures beyond imagining for us poor souls in stuck in meatspace, and that means they'll likely neglect the core biological function of all life: Having children

Yes, people will date in cyberspace. Yes, people will probably get married and indulge in all sorts of virtual hedonistic pleasures, but unlike in the real world, this won't result in children. Sure, couples might meet up "irl" but then they aren't walking around in supermodel-avatars. On average, "meatspace-couples" will produce far more children than "cyberspace-couples".

What does this mean? This means that cultures, societies, and ideologies that focus on interaction with the "real world" will rapidly out-breed those stuck in VR. Now, human generational cycles aren't fast but the beliefs passed on from parent to offspring are often very strong. Furthermore, there's probably multiple genetic components linked to how much one enjoys VR or an alternate reality in general, similar to how the primitive VR of today makes some people motion sick with long usage. If you wait a couple generations, natural selection will start to favor people who are involved with the real world because those who don't will simply die out due to lack of having children.

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