Oculus Sift

Virtual reality may find use in assessing sex offenders.

Currently, the most common testing technique (for men) is what’s known as penile plethysmography. This involves placing a ring-style sensor around the offender’s penis, then measuring any changes in its circumference as they’re subjected to a variety of visual or auditory stimuli. One problem with this approach is that subjects can skew the results by diverting their eyes from the images.

Holy Clockwork Orange, Batman. I can understand the wish to determine if sex offenders are likely to offend again, when determining their parole. But what we’re talking about here is effectively using VR to enable unavoidable thought crime, and entrapment thereof. Look away from the virtual child and you can still be guilty, because what we want is not what you did (legally or otherwise) but what you will do, aka your latent intent, even if you don’t consciously know it.

So we’ll track the offenders’ gaze while we show them pictures designed to stir their perversions. And if they respond (involuntarily, as it were), they go back to jail or at least more therapy.

Leaving aside the political arguments for or against the above technique and ignoring the likelihood of consumer-grade penile sensors, doesn’t this research tend to reinforce the concerns we’ve expressed about Facebook buying Oculus?

The article never once considers the bigger implications of this research.

VR creates more bandwidth in and out of our brains. It can be used for good, like creative expression or social understanding, or it can be used to redistribute our innermost thoughts without our consent, as in the above example.

Showing a sex offender a picture of a [insert perversion here] and watching him or her react is a stone’s throw away from showing you a picture of a car, or someone’s face, or some food and watching your gaze, skin and heartbeat react involuntarily.

If that information is used to market to you, then it forms a self-reinforcing ring of exploitation. More money from your pocket finances better ways to remove said money from your pocket. And there is little incentive for true informed consent, as it both diminishes a company’s customer base and undermines these experiments for those who remain.

In the case of the sexual predators, I can only assume they don’t get a choice in the matter.

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