Einstein in Second Life

POSTED: November 17, 2020

Wagner James Auo has written an article for Samsung’s Sumsungnext.com blog, in which he discusses how using avatars in immersive worlds can change “who we feel we are”. He has, of course, pursued this line of argument since Linden Labs employed him as an embedded reporter called SLHamlet in Second Life.

He discusses Stanley Milgram’s experiments, published in 1963, which, according to Wikipedia, “measured the willingness of study participants, men from a diverse range of occupations with varying levels of education, to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts conflicting with their personal conscience. Participants were led to believe that they were assisting an unrelated experiment, in which they had to administer electric shocks to a “learner.” These fake electric shocks gradually increased to levels that would have been fatal had they been real”.

Auo points out that “Microsoft Research’s Mar Gonzalez-Franco and the University of Barcelona’s Mel Slater recently recreated Milgram’s experiment in virtual reality and measured its effects on volunteers”.

In their version, rather than being ordered to shock a human victim in another room, test subjects were told to electrocute a 3D avatar displayed on a headset whenever the subject appeared to answer a test question incorrectly.

Slater and Gonzalez-Franco discovered an amazing result: While knowing full well that the avatars were completely virtual, volunteers still were traumatized at the prospect of applying shocks to it, and some volunteers even attempted to help the avatar cheat on the test.

Auo also points to another of Slater’s experiment which seems to suggest that Virtually Being Einstein Results in an Improvement in Cognitive Task Performance and a Decrease in Age Bias.

But you already knew this, you scream. No, I already hypothosised something very like this. Gathering evidence counts as an important next step.