Would you risk having a brain implant and entering Ready Player One’s Oasis?
When you start a job, you expect to be introduced to people, given a list of requirements, and maybe a company handbook.
At Oculus VR, the Facebook-owned virtual-reality company, it’s a little different: every new employee is given a copy of dystopian novel Ready Player One.
In Ernest Cline’s 2011 book, which is now a Steven Spielberg film, everyone is tuned in to the virtual world of Oasis, where they can escape the horrors of reality and find the hidden fortune of a wealthy tech owner.
The company admits the book inspired the development of its Rift VR headset.
‘We love the book,’ Oculus chief executive Brendan Iribe told the Financial Times. ‘It is required reading for every employee. We all want to create the Oasis.’
In the novel, Wade Watts becomes Parzival, an avatar hero in his virtual universe of Oasis.
The year is 2045, where America is riven with poverty and people retreat into fantasy.
As Wade puts it in the film: ‘People come to the Oasis for all the things they can do. But they stay because of all the things they can be.’
It’s the only place where people feel meaningful and also where they can meet potential partners.
It is also the world’s most important economic revenue source. And one can see why. Wouldn’t everyone want to live in a beautiful world where your fantasies come true?
Back to reality, it’s also obviously seen as an area of huge potential for the tech giants, who are looking to get in on the action.
Of course, space man extraordinaire Elon Musk is one of the early pioneers.
He has even developed his own company: Neuralink.
After all, it is all very well donning a headset and using haptic tech to enter this world, as Wade does in the film.
But what if you could immerse yourself so totally that it felt like you were literally living the dream?
Which is where companies like Neuralink come in. In the future, will people opt for brain implant to experience the ultimate gaming experience?
Musk believe this is happening right now: ‘You’re already digitally superhuman,’ he says. ‘The thing that would change is the interface.’
His neural lace will mean speech, typing, and using gaming controls will be relegated to history: ‘If I were to communicate a concept to you, you would essentially engage in consensual telepathy.’
And brain implants are currently available – but only for people with severe neurological problems, and research animals.
It’s all starting to enter the realms of dystopia.
Big business and government agencies are all-too-keen for people to have a chip implanted so they can collect data every time someone makes a purchase or enters a building.
It is a convenient way for doctors to access your medical records, or for security to send you swiftly through passport control.
And some parents might want their children to be fitted, so they can track them. The possible consequences of this can be seen in the Black Mirror episode Arkangel.
But Blake Richards, a neuroscientist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, spoke for many when he told The Verge last year: ‘Most healthy individuals are uncomfortable with the idea of having a doctor crack open their skulls.’
Then there is the possibility of behavioural side-effects, including apathy, hallucinations, compulsive behaviour, hypersexuality, cognitive dysfunction, and depression.
These may be temporary, and therefore potentially reversible, but would you risk someone messing with your brain?
If so, are we potentially looking at a Brave New World-style society where the government can control people with Neo-Pavlovian responses?
There are concerns that neural implants could be hacked.
Privacy advocates have raised alarms about the ability for hackers to intercept someone’s radio-frequency ID signal and duplicate the device in order to steal someone’s identity.
And, even more sinister, what if a terrorist was able to gain access to your brain?
With gene editing becoming a more precise science, thanks to new techniques such as CRISPR-Cas9, could we mess with gender?
Or produce designer babies with brain implants from birth?
Humans are essentially competitive, which is what capitalism is all about.
But if some people, say the rich, raise their abilities by brain augmentation, wouldn’t people who don’t change be at a disadvantage?
They might not be able to compete in education, in jobs, or in dating.
To be able to download information to your brain, like Johnny Mnemonic, might be too big a lure.
It’s a topic that is making programme makers froth at the mouth.
You may have seen the new Channel 4 trailers for Kiss Me First, the world’s first TV drama that combines live action with CGI virtual-world sequences.
It features the fictional AzanaBand, which unlocks a virtual sensory world of pain and pleasure. There is even a fake ad to accompany the series.
The device turns games into real-world experiences by amplifying three senses: happiness, fear, and pain.
Is this the future of gaming?
He dreams of a day when instead of posting directly to Facebook, you’ll post directly to someone’s brain instead: ‘You’re going to just be able to capture a thought, what you’re thinking or feeling in kind of its ideal and perfect form in your head, and be able to share that with the world in a format where they can get that.’
In Ready Player One, Wade searches for the ultimate virtual Easter eggs.
And for you, sensory devices mean you could have your Easter egg, eat it, and enjoy the pleasure without the pain of weight gain.
Not to mention experience a paradise, an Oasis, of pleasure.
For most, I suspect, a little neurological tinkering may be a small price to pay.
Ready Player One will be in UK cinemas from 30 March.