We have witnessed a race by major technology companies to launch new platforms that signal the beginning of a new phase in the Digital Era: The Metaverse and Omniverse Era.
Those who perhaps believed AI, Blockchain, or Quantum would be the dominant force of the next Industrial Revolution are now likely wondering if The Metaverse or The Omniverse will play that key role.
From a futurist’s perspective, this is an exciting and long-awaited leap into immersive, multi-sensory, and converging technology experiences, however, we must also ask ourselves how will both of these poorly understood immersive digital ecosystems impact our society and culture?
From a digital ethicist’s perspective, one can expect significant concerns about how these will impact moral values and the ability to uphold ethical principles.
Experts were already warning about the profound and transformative socio-cultural impact of quantum, AI, blockchain, 6G, brain-computer interfaces, and other emerging technologies, as well as the need to prevent ethical violations. Now their concerns will be heightened and key stakeholders are faced with an even more complex Meta- and Omniverse-fueled digital ethics conundrum.
Challenges and Controversies
Before discussing the ethical dilemmas related to large-scale deployments of The Meta- and Mmniverse, we must first understand how they are defined. As highlighted in a recent technical paper published by Huansheng Ning and colleagues from Cornell University, The Metaverse is a “new type of internet application and social form that integrates a variety of new technologies”. The authors highlight its characteristics which are a symbiotic convergence of established technologies, emerging technologies, social media platform functionality and “hyper-spatio-temporality”. There is a vacuum of scientific papers on technical or ethical aspects related to The Omniverse, however, according to industry leaders promoting various applications such as Nvidia it is a trademarked term and represents “ a scalable, multi-GPU real-time reference development platform for 3D simulation and design collaboration, and based on Pixar’s Universal Scene Description and NVIDIA RTX™ technology.”
Some of the key ethical concerns that ethicists are already envisioning for both The Metaverse and Metaverse are related to consumer trust and rights, “misuse or unauthorized use of metaverse or omniverse-generated data, as well as extreme vulnerability to cyber-attacks. Would The Metaverse and Omniverse deployments pass a basic ethics checklist? More than likely not.
It would be difficult to argue that they meet the beneficence criteria and while some might argue that the intent is clearly to promote innovation and societal progress, they certainly increase the potential for malicious use. Given the multiple breaches published and the stats on cybersecurity that continue to show exponential increases in cyber-attacks for major companies, one would be concerned that they both would fail the strictest criteria for confidentiality and integrity.
While we do not have any proof yet regarding their ability or inability to uphold the principles of fidelity, integrity, and autonomy, we can certainly extrapolate from past deployments of other emerging technologies that were significantly less sophisticated. That methodology would sadly lead us to expect them both to fail.
If the technology companies that seem to be racing to achieve Meta- or Omniverse-supremacy would consider state-of-the-art ethics to be a competitive advantage we might have a pleasant surprise for once in our history and actually learn valuable insights from our past mistakes. Few companies have understood the need to be proactive and invest upfront in complex digital ethics and data governance programs.
To mitigate the potential negative consequences induced by The Meta- and Omniverse, we must advocate for the design and deployment of proactive digital ethics, proactive cyber-defense programs and creating a culture of digital ethics and cyber-awareness. Furthermore, these would need to be integrated and hrmanonized with other enterprise compliance programs to prevent ethical breaches.
While regulatory and legal experts are still trying to bridge the gap in frameworks that can address emerging technologies such as blockchain, AI, or next-generation computing, they must now face an even larger challenge as the Metaverse and Onniverse are trespassing multiple industry boundaries, while posing unique, novel ethical challenges.
So who are the key stakeholders that can engage in a global Meta- and Omniverse Data Governance and Ethics Program? Governments, academia, the private sector, and not-for-profit organizations would all have to collaborate to be successful. In addition to legal and regulatory updates, developing international standards, implementing key ethical performance indicators, as well as embracing societal expectations of diversity and inclusion will be paramount. First, we would have to establish the ethical design philosophy and desired outcomes for a society fully immersed in the Meta and Omniverse. Second, we would aim to create a robust ethics architecture that would ensure adequate data governance and address identity management, privacy, security, ownership challenges etc. Third would be the development of a customized ethical framework for various industries or domains. This framework would include the impact on society, the environment, long-term sustainability, education, and emphasis on ESGs.
Pessimists will likely envision the worst possible outcomes with a negative impact on education, arts, culture, social interaction, etc.
Optimists will hope that companies leading the charge in deploying the Meta- and Omniverse would be ethically and purpose-driven, with a vision and mission that aim to deliver “ethical, transparent” services or even to facilitate the attainment of UN SDGs.
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