compatibility and interoperability issues, enforcement and control issues, and social and ethical issues. For example, in the technological area, problems related to the timing of information flow in SE networks merit special consideration. Similarly, in the social and ethical area, the potential of SE for providing participants with powerful emotional experiences (including those related to sex and violence) needs to be addressed.
In general, it appears that SE, because of its mass entertainment potential, is likely to become one of the largest uses of high-speed communication networks, and its use should have an early and continuing part in the development of standards, regulatory principles, and tariff-setting models for such networks. The recent congressional attention that has been given to the kinds of material that are appropriate for the media to present is but a mild precursor to the public debate that is likely to arise when advanced VE technology becomes widely available.
It will be critical for the federal government to consider VEs in the formulation of national standards and regulations. Studies could be undertaken to illuminate issues related to technological compatibility and interoperability, enforcement and control, and social and ethical problems raised by the use of VEs in society.
The extent to which government funds will be directed toward specific SE research depends, at least in part, on the likelihood that such projects will be funded independently, i.e., by industry. Estimating this likelihood requires not only an analysis of current market forces, but also predictions of how market forces will evolve in the future. Although such predictions are notoriously difficult to make with accuracy, and market forces are as likely to be shaped by the results of the research and development as they are to shape the research and development that is performed, failure to consider market forces in making funding decisions is likely to seriously reduce the extent to which the funding is effective in advancing the field. For these reasons, it would be prudent for the federal government to monitor market forces as part of developing its strategic plan for the allocation of scarce resources.
As with most other technologies, the effects of the advances in SE are likely to be mixed; some effects will be positive and others negative. And as with the predictions of market forces, although accurate predictions of societal impact are difficult to derive, serious attempts to consider such factors would be decidedly worthwhile. It cannot be assumed that all technological advances, even those that are likely to have substantial practical applications, will necessarily be beneficial.