Oranburg to explore virtual worlds with Hayek Fund for Scholars Award

Seth OranburgSeth Oranburg, assistant professor of law and director of the business essentials for lawyers micro-credential program, received the Hayek Fund for Scholars Award from George Mason University's Institute for Humane Studies (IHS). The funds he received from the award were used to purchase virtual reality equipment and to hire a research assistant, second-year law student Tom Schierberl. Together, the two are going to explore virtual reality worlds in context of the law.

"Although it may sound far out, virtual worlds are increasingly becoming a commercial reality; the gross domestic product of these words is already equal to that of Bulgaria's, and virtual economies are growing much faster than many real-world ones. I'm so pleased that IHS recognized the importance of this forward-looking research. As we move into an increasingly technology driven future, it's important to consider how technological changes will impact our values, such as freedom, democracy, and equality," said Oranburg.

Termed ‘virtual,' this type of interaction can have interesting uses in law. Schierberl said, "Virtual reality gives us the opportunity to volumetrically record an interaction. Meaning, in the event of contract dispute, we can play back the contract's formation in 3D to hear what was said, where it was said, where the persons were in relation to one another. The recording can be played while still in virtual reality - you can make the recording the size of a virtual apple or fill the entire virtual room."

Schierberl finds the most interesting part of virtual worlds the manipulation of the recording to view the contract's formation from every individual person's perspective at the time of formation. "It is like a movie that lets you control the perspective and that could be a great tool in contract interpretation going forward as virtual reality becomes more prominent," he said.

The duo is honored they received this award, and Oranburg is anticipating the good he will be able to do with it. He said, "Exploring this uncharted commercial territory marks a turning pointing in my research agenda, and hopefully a leap forward for my career, but more importantly the IHS funding supports the notion that we should strive toward achieving the good in society even when that society exists in new-and even virtual-spaces."

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