The Dark Age of Virtual Reality-Based Torture Is Approaching Fast

Image: ​SoundSelf
Imagine you’re in a small room. The walls are covered in geometric patterns that literally hurt to look at. In the corner are a polygonal bed and bench canted at angles that make them impossible to sit on. The floor is cluttered with a gridwork of bricks rendering it impossible to walk any direction but forward.


It sounds like a computer model of the exact opposite of Fung Shui, but it’s quite real. Built by anarchists fighting in the Spanish Civil War, the so-called psychotechnic torture cell used turn-of-the-century perceptual concepts in abstract art to maximize sensory disruption, subverting prisoners’ senses to drive them mad.

It’s a bizarre example of the kind of mind-fuckery that’s possible when someone has the means of shaping your reality—something modern technology now allows us to do like never before.

Virtual reality is being trumpeted as a platform for everything from pornography to video games to treating PTSD. But given how powerful VR is becoming, and how widely used it’s evidently going to become, one logical misuse is especially disturbing: torture.

To be clear, there’s no evidence of VR being used to press people for information the way sound, rectal feeding, and other horrors were ​applied by the CIA in its secret prisons. But where the imagination goes, reality has often followed. And when it comes to torture, a simulation can be just as impactful as the real thing. “In mental health, perceptions are reality,” says Dr. Asher Aladjem of Bellevue’s Program for Survivors of Torture, “so if you think you are being tortured, you are being tortured.”

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