AI in the Metaverse: Addressing the Ethical Implications

AI in the Metaverse Addressing the Ethical Implications
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Artificial intelligence (AI) and the metaverse – linking the virtual and real worlds through technologies such as augmented reality – are becoming increasingly widespread in all areas of life, including gaming and social media. 

The use of AI in the metaverse, projected to be an $800 billion market according to a recent Bloomberg report, has the potential to bring significant benefits.

However, the possibility can carry diabolical implications without government standards or codes of ethics in place. This raises the question: Who sets the rules, and is it possible for machines driven by algorithms to behave ethically? 

This article will explore the ethical concerns and the importance of considering the ethical implications of AI in the metaverse. 

Understanding the Implications of AI

It is essential to remember that the metaverse is only in the early stages of development. Many opportunities require time in research and development before they can be operational.

However, Gartner, Inc. predicts that by 2026, approximately 25% of people will spend one hour per day in the metaverse. But, at present, most AI is developed without ethical oversight, which shouldn’t happen in the metaverse.

On the other hand, since the metaverse is still being defined and therefore not regulated, it inevitably has problems with privacy and security. As a result, the volume of personal data exchanged is significantly higher than that related to real-life activities.

The solution to this might lie in the development of ethical standards. But let us discuss the critical ethical implications surrounding AI in the metaverse: 

The Impact of Bias on AI in Virtual Reality

One of the key ethical issues around AI in the metaverse is bias. Because biased people create AI algorithms, they can be developed to follow their creators’ thought patterns and principles, which can then be multiplied.

AI systems can perpetuate or even amplify existing societal biases, leading to unfair treatment of certain groups. This is a major ethical concern because it can result in discrimination based on characteristics such as gender or ethnicity. 

Therefore, it is crucial to ensure that AI systems are trained on diverse and representative data sets to minimize the risk of bias. 

Transparency in AI Decision Process

Transparency in decision-making is another important ethical issue in using AI in the metaverse. It is easier for algorithm designers to understand the harmful repercussions of their programs after they are deployed.

Consequently, AI systems often make decisions based on complex algorithms and data sets that are difficult for humans to understand, making it difficult for users to know how decisions are being made, leading to a loss of trust in the system’s fairness.

Ensuring that AI systems are transparent will enable people to know how and why AI systems are making certain decisions. 

Seeing the reasoning behind an AI system’s decisions can help build trust, which is particularly important when these decisions can significantly impact people’s lives, such as hiring decisions or the criminal justice system. 

Dangers of Deepfake Technology in the Virtual World

The use of AI to create deepfake content designed to manipulate people’s perceptions of reality raises serious ethical concerns. 

Deepfake technology uses artificial intelligence to generate or manipulate audio, video, or other media. For example, deepfake content could influence political elections, spread false information about a person or group, or create fake news stories designed to mislead people.

It is becoming increasingly more work to differentiate between real and fake content. Unfortunately, this can have serious consequences, as people may become more skeptical of information and less trusting of sources, leading to a breakdown in communication and social cohesion.

Considering the ethical implications and potential risks brought by deepfake technology is essential. Therefore, it is necessary to raise awareness on the subject, and it may include the following:

  • Developing policies and regulations to govern the use of this technology
  • Educating people about the potential for deepfake content to be made and disseminated
  • Developing tools and techniques to detect and prevent its spread.

Ethical Concern of Using Digital Twins

While digital twins can be a valuable tool, their design raises ethical considerations related to data privacy and security.

Creating digital twins requires volume and variety of data representing the real-world entity from various sources, including sensors, cameras, and other devices.

This data may include personal information, such as a person’s name, age, or location, and data about the entity’s characteristics and behaviors. The collection and use of this data bring to the forefront privacy concerns, as individuals may not be aware of or consent to the gathering and exploiting their personal information.

One of the challenges to overcome here is the potential for data to be accessed or misused by unauthorized individuals. In addition, digital twins may require using cloud-based storage or other third-party services, which, as a result, can increase the likelihood of data breaches or other incidents.

No matter how complex and time-consuming this task may be, it is important to ensure that the data used to create digital twins is collected and used ethically and that individuals have control over how their data is used.

Implementing strong data privacy and security measures, obtaining consent before acquiring and using data, and providing transparency about the data application can help. 

Ensuring Ethical Data Practices in the Use of AI in the Metaverse

A handful of laws and regulations and industry-specific laws related to data protection in the context of AI already exist. For example, the EU’s comprehensive General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the state-level law California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) regulate personal data collection, use, and storage.

Therefore, following the best practices to protect personal data using AI and the metaverse is essential. These practices may include:

  • Obtaining consent from individuals before collecting and using their personal data;
  • Providing transparency about how personal data is being collected and used;
  • Implementing strong data privacy and security measures to protect against unauthorized access or misuse;
  • Assuring that personal data is used in a manner that is respectful and fair to individuals’ rights and values;
  • Reviewing and updating data protection policies and practices on a regular basis to enforce the legislation and regulations and to address emerging challenges.

The Importance of Ethical and Professional Conduct in the Digital Age

In today’s digital age, individuals and organizations must act ethically and professionally to meet the society’s needs.

This requires a combination of creativity and diligence in the development process, as well as the integration of ethical decision-making, critical thinking, and the ability to anticipate and evaluate the potential consequences of actions.

It is also important for this process to be conducted with transparency and openness so that any potential issues can be identified and addressed.

We need to remember that users of virtual spaces are real people who can be harmed just as they can be in the physical world.

Unfortunately, incidents have occurred in virtual spaces that mimic the risks and harms present in the physical world, such as harassment and bullying of marginalized individuals and communities.

According to Statista’s recent statistics, many Americans have experienced online harassment (44%), physical threats (15%), sexual harassment (12%), or stalking (12%). Unfortunately, the trend of so-called cyberbullying is increasing, and the metaverse needs to take steps to reduce these negative experiences.

Therefore, the creators of virtual worlds need to develop strong codes of ethics to maintain safe virtual environments, protect those more vulnerable, and hold less power in cultural spaces.

Establishing Metaverse Industry Standards

It can take a long time for regulations to be put in place. In the meantime, there are certain principles businesses operating in the metaverse should adhere to. This will help create a safe user environment, reduce risks, and attract advertisers and investors. 

To promote responsible practices in the metaverse, it is necessary to set standards for metaverse behavior and financial best practices. These standards could include the following:

  1. Know your customer requirements to verify users’ real-world identities, including a process for registering minors to reduce the risk of abusive actors;
  2. Create safe spaces and develope AI tools to monitor mental health and addiction;
  3. Alow users to opt in to and confirm their comfort with different content levels.
  4. Establish a cross-industry database of bad actors and their real-world identities;
  5. Define processes for better managing financial risks, including published exchange fees, real-world collateral for loans or trades, and outsourced ID verification;
  6. Support embedded finance, securitization, wealth generation, and taxation capabilities by the right technologies and user experience flows.

Another idea is to also create a quality stamp for self-regulating, standards-compliant environments to make it easy for users to identify safe virtual worlds. However, individuals first need to be aware of the risks of visiting unregulated virtual worlds and make sound decisions about where to spend their time.

Ethical Implications of AI in the Metaverse: Key Takeaways

The ethical implications of artificial intelligence in virtual environments, such as the metaverse, are complex and multi-dimensional. Some of the key moral concerns include:

  • Bias
  • Transparency
  • Data protection and privacy
  • Deepfake technology.

Regardless, as we build these bold new worlds fueled by virtual and augmented reality, we must proactively address privacy, safety, and ethics in this field. 

As much as AI offers a wide range of possible advantages, we must ensure the implementation is both informed and ethical. Without informed consent and sufficient knowledge of these advanced technologies’ risks, we are on a tightrope between trust and an imaginary state.

Neil Sahota
Neil Sahota (萨冠军) is an IBM Master Inventor, United Nations (UN) Artificial Intelligence (AI) Advisor, author of the best-seller Own the AI Revolution and sought-after speaker. With 20+ years of business experience, Neil works to inspire clients and business partners to foster innovation and develop next generation products/solutions powered by AI.