Will VR dehumanize learning?

Virtual Reality and its younger cousin, Augmented Reality, will very soon form a key role in people's lives and especially when it comes to how people learn and educate themselves.

One question that is in the back of everyone's mind, but perhaps blinded by optimism, they leave it to the side as something that will sort itself out, is : Will it make us less human? Will it discourage human relationships? Will we all become isolated, computer aided zombies?

I say that this is in the back of everyone's mind as I think this is something we have all experienced. We find it funny, and perhaps weird, to see someone wearing a large computer on their head. If we are the ones wearing such a device, we might perhaps feel anxious or afraid of other people's judgements. This is not surprising, and is in fact quite normal. Issac Asimov, brilliantly explains in this 1988 clip how computers can revolutionize education, and why these worries about dehumanizing technology should not stop us from pursuing it. 


If you watched the video through to the end, you might perhaps like me, cannot but wonder how VR could push this revolution a big step further.  What computers allowed us to do is to have  the 'human library' available at our fingertips. However, a key element is missing. Human knowledge does not amount to only that which we can convey in writing or in images. The breath of human knowledge encompasses skills, emotions, experiences, creative expression. Written or pictorial language is sufficient for keeping track of how many days we have left in the month, or even for conveying abstract and complex thought like 'what is the meaning of life'. But to truly convey the experience of living, with all it's emotional, psychological and physiological content, we need more - we need a reality.

So back to the main question. Will VR, AR, Bio Interfaces and other such technologies dehumanize us and the way we learn? Yes. And yes many things will be lost, transformed, and forgotten. But like all other tools we have invented, written language, computers and AI, these technologies will also bring people great benefits and joy. It is the way of life, things will naturally evolve - we can not stop it but we can shape it.