Openness, interoperability and theoretical wandering on what the Metaverse will end up being are driving the conversation. Is this at the expense of the values, ethics and philosophy we need to build the future of web technology around? Brave ethical judgements need to be made and added to the road map of the Metaverse, but how do we go about deciding what those will be, or who the responsibility is with?
This is unchartered territory, the cart firmly leading the horse. The only certainty in 2021 is our children will grow up experiencing the digital worlds which we are envisioning and building; they will enter their teens with an internet we can barely imagine. How do those tasked with creating the Metaverse make it safe? How do they ensure the ethics we pride ourselves on in real life will transcend borders and be applicable in the Metaverse?
Confidentiality, hate-speech, justice, depression, anxiety, isolation, pornography, violence, harassment, bullying. These are words which should be part of the conversation now, as we build, not in a decade when the digital bull has destroyed the stable and we are too far along the decentralized path to make amends. Step one is to widen the conversation.
Bullying in the Metaverse
Facebook brings people together but is addictive by design. Twitter is leading the conversation yet is a cesspool of hate speech and racism. BitClout is a decentralized social media platform where freedom of speech is available to everyone but you can buy and sell popularity and fame and amplify the social value and ‘worth’ of anyone on the platform. Just what teenagers need. 44% of Americans have suffered online harassment, 15% physical threats, 12% sexual harassment and 12% have been stalked. These numbers are going up. The Metaverse has to bring them down.
Biometric Data, the Blockchain and GDPR
In the Metaverse advertisers will be able to track your body movement, brainwaves, and physiological responses to adverts you don’t even know are adverts. It can all be stored on the blockchain, for ever. Every eye movement checked, reviewed, and confirmed. Could this Metaverse data be sold to the highest bidder? Like today, only infinitely worse?
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a law passed by the European Union which imposes obligations onto organizations on how and why they collect data. Does the law cover the Metaverse and could it/should it even if it is applicable? Could a new cross-chain, cross-platform regulation work? And if so, how?
Polkadex has a decentralized KYC which uses cryptographic proof instead of user data to verify that the participant is not involved in money. Could a similar system be used to monitor abuse, violence, harassment, discrimination?
The 4 Stoic Laws of Robotics
Could the 4 Stoic virtues — wisdom, courage, justice and temperance — be used to build an ethical template for the Metaverse? Or perhaps Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, tweaked for the technological prowess of the Metaverse? A Ten Commandments; a declaration; or just an agreed upon ‘cross-chain’ ethical consensus which instils a sense of morality into the code of the Metaverse?
Who makes up the Metaverse Ethical council?
Whatever the answer — and gaming companies, mega-corps and mixed reality play-to-earn companies building the Metaverse should be incorporating the philosophical thinking of humanity into their plans and road maps for the future — once the ethics which guide the conduct of people participating in virtual worlds have been agreed upon, the next step is to decide whose hand the keys of responsibility should be in? Should it be solely left to the companies to decide? Or should the players, technologists and undisclosed third parties be added to the conversation? How about A.I. itself?
An ethical Metaverse conclusion
It’s all too easy with the Metaverse to become grandiose and fall into a trap of your own making filled with Bladerunner and Terminator and the Matrix and Ready Player One and A.I. characters with real personalities and emotions which will also populate the Metaverse. This loses sight of the immediacy of the issue. How we will treat those incarnations is for another day. The Turing Test already needs an upgrade.
Searching the internet, articles on the ethics of the Metaverse are few and far between. It is all about the digitalized wonder, crypto gold and arguments about the Metaverse is. However, there are a few. The Oasisconsortium re-launched as an industry consortium which will promote ethical standards and practices for the Metaverse.
“Our vision is an ethical Internet built with safety, privacy, and inclusion at its core, where future generations trust they can interact, co-create, and exist free from online hate and toxicity.”
There are more questions than answers, and I only aim to raise a few. It will be for others to answer. I’ll leave you with a quote from the ISACE paper on digital ethics and the blockchain, and hope, for the sake of our children, that the Metaverse is built on the fundamentals of human nature which even Marcus Aurelius would be proud.
“If blockchains are built for integrity, privacy, security, distributed value and inclusion, economies and social institutions can be redesigned to be worthy of trust.”
And so can the Metaverse.