Thursday, June 26, 2008

Meet Me on the Holodeck

The Baltimore SUN recently had an article about a computer simulation called "Virtual Iraq," used to treat veterans suffering from traumatic stress syndrome. Here's the URL:,0,2471081.story

The system includes 3-D goggles, earphones, an odor-producing machine, and a vibration platform. Other than the last device, there doesn't seem to be a tactile component. The technique aims to recreate as vividly as possible the experiences that created the original stress. Repeated exposure is designed to drain the memories of their "haunting power" so that the patient can freely talk about them in therapy. The whole set-up costs about $7000 (cheaper than I would have expected, actually). The psychologist who invented the system was inspired by observing brain injury patients, who ordinarily have trouble concentrating, deeply absorbed in video games. So far, proponents of this therapy say it shows significant improvement over other approaches.

You SF fans will easily guess what this article reminded me of—the holodeck on STAR TREK. Aside from its recreational purpose, the holodeck was used for training simulations and for therapy. The Doctor on VOYAGER set up scenarios for Seven of Nine to practice social skills and a Vulcan officer in pon farr to be intimate with a simulation of his wife.

I wonder how far in the future we'll achieve totally immersive virtual reality. Judging from the Virtual Iraq system, we seem to be getting close. When something like the holodeck eventually comes into existence, it will doubtless get used for a variety of purposes, good and bad, serious and frivolous, like every previous medium—teaching, therapy, socialization, entertainment, fiction delivery, interactive porn. Hmm, considering the Doctor’s pon farr simulation, could such a virtual reality system enable couples separated by work or military service to “meet” in a multi-sensory, fully lifelike online environment?

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