Life in the Holodeck:

Australian science fiction writer John Birmingham has an interesting discussion of the possibility that we might all end up living in a holodeck forever (HT: Instapundit). If advancing technology ever allows us to create a virtual reality environment that truly felt "real" (as Star Trek's fictional Holodeck does), it would be easy to program experiences that are far more stimulating and pleasurable than anything we could get in the material world. Would the vast majority of humanity then choose to spend all their time in the holodeck? I don't know. But it's an interesting possibility.

The issue is not a new one. Political philosopher Robert Nozick raised a similar question back in 1974, when he considered the possibility of an "experience machine" - effectively the same thing as the holodeck, except that the participants might not know that they weren't in the "real" world. Nozick argued that living your life in an experience machine would be undesirable. But I suspect that a lot of people won't be deterred by his and other arguments against it.

The issue is not immediately urgent. Despite the eager hopes of Trekkies and others, we don't yet have a working holodeck. But advances in virtual reality technology make it a more pressing concern than it was back when Nozick wrote about it. On balance, I tend to think that there is enough diversity of preferences that we won't ever have Birmingham's nightmare scenario under which we all "end up Matrixing ourselves in very short order." Some people would stay out because they are achievement-oriented, and others for ethical or religious reasons. But it's hard to say for sure.