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New report: Exploring human vulnerability in the metaverse

Posted in: Technology July 17, 2023
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New report: Exploring human vulnerability in the metaverse

A new research paper co-developed by AUDRi and Vulnera explores  potential risks and challenges posed by the development of the metaverse. The report emphasises the need for careful consideration and proactive measures to protect the rights and well-being of individuals, particularly those who are vulnerable or marginalised.

Mark Zuckerberg popularised the idea of the metaverse in October 2021 by announcing that Facebook would become Meta and laid out his very particular vision of what this digital world might be. But the metaverse is neither a new concept nor a digital fad. 

AUDRi Global Coordinator, Emma Gibson, explains that the principles and considerations around the ethics of the metaverse remain as relevant and pressing as ever. 

“It may seem that the debate around digital ethics has moved away from the metaverse and onto the ethics of large language models. But the ambition of creating an immersive experience replicating every aspect of our physical lives has not disappeared.

“Many governments see the metaverse as crucial to their countries’ economic and social development, and active discussions are taking place at the highest levels about the implications of the metaverse on development and digital transformation.

“We also see people already incorporating the metaverse into their lives, whether it be enabling remote work, facilitating social connections or for immersive entertainment like gaming.”

Overcoming particular vulnerabilities, enhancing others 

The report’s key findings highlight some of the potential benefits and pitfalls of the metaverse. On the one hand, it acknowledges the positive impact the metaverse could have in empowering individuals and enhancing human capabilities, particularly for those who experience vulnerability in the offline world. However, it also highlights the reinforcement of social inequalities due to the digital divide, limited access for certain groups, and the perpetuation of subordination and conformity within the virtual realm.

One of the most alarming aspects addressed in the report is the new channel for abuse that the metaverse presents, including sexual assault and image-based abuse. The hyper-realistic nature of the metaverse content is expected to amplify the trauma caused by such offences, and the lack of clear definitions and legal frameworks to address them is a pressing concern.

The report underscores the need for governments and regulators to take responsibility for protecting the rights and equality of individuals in the metaverse. The report also warns about the vulnerability to mental manipulation through AI-driven emotional recognition, especially among children, people with cognitive impairments, and those with psychological vulnerabilities.

“We cannot responsibly talk about the potential of the metaverse without considering safety, accessibility, and how you create a metaverse which is human-centred and respects and promotes human rights.

“We must not unintentionally roll back hard-won progress on equality as we enter this new digital space.”

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