Ethics matters. Always.
This statement of beliefs is the result of a collective effort in Metaphysic for a couple of blog posts that Tom wrote and as a direct result of Synthetic Futures’ events in 2021 and 2022.
We share with you our approach. And we invite you to take part with us in building an ethical foundation for all. Join the community here.
As a society, we praise the privilege of exercising unencumbered agency over our physical, verbal, and mental capacities.
Unfortunately, most people experience some form of constraint over their agency, whether it’s coercive economic systems, autocrats, bullies, abusers, retrograde institutions, physical walls, or discrimination based on.
As technology evolves to a point where third parties can recreate what makes us uniquely individual without our consent, we must demand more agency, participation, and control over ourselves in the metaverse as it develops.
Who we are in the metaverse will become who we are, period.
We build systems that give individual users informed consent over how their biometric data is used, where their hyperreal likeness appears, and how it acts. An essential feature of individual agency is the ability to grant and withdraw consent.
All our social, political, and economic systems in physical reality are ultimately predicated on the assumption that we are in control of ourselves and consent to participation. Individual choice is paramount in an environment where artificial intelligence can alter identities at scale.
The challenge is that the mechanics of algorithmic systems are often illegible. Consent depends on the absence of coercion and an informed understanding of the terms.
But AI systems can manipulate users in subtle ways, and processes are often buried deep within the terms of service.
A core feature of our products is to establish an ethical, transparent economy for content creation and participation in the metaverse where individual users can grant informed consent that creators can rely on when bringing personally identifiable data into their creations.
As it becomes a seamless extension of physical reality, the metaverse must be designed to reflect the limitless variety of human experience.
This requires the development of datasets and models that are intrinsically inclusive and dynamic enough to handle fluid notions of personal identity.
Through thoughtful design of viable bottom-up data marketplaces and the intentional development of XR technologies that cater to users of all backgrounds, we can build a strong foundation for a just virtual world.
Diversity is the key to any healthy ecosystem, and the metaverse is no exception.
We hope that our commitment to diversity and inclusion will, in some small way, contribute to a metaverse that is an open and welcoming environment for everyone.
The tension between closed and open systems will be important in how individuals’ rights and agency are treated in the hyperreal metaverse.
Ultimately, we believe that the metaverse will be a constellation of open and closed platforms and services where corporations do their best to lock users into their ecosystems.
In contrast, Web3 services and protocols facilitate portability across experiences that will be increasingly popular as the offerings of smaller, independent developers mature. Past experience with open virtual worlds has shown us that these systems can be exploited by bad actors who undermine the safety and enjoyment of others inhabiting the space.
This can take various forms, including sexual abuse and hate toward users based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, or race.
In the case of hyperreal content, such actions’ detrimental effects are magnified due to the close link between a user’s physical and virtual identities.
Technologists, content creators, and users must have an open and frank discussion of these tradeoffs to find a balance between freedom and safety that privileges the fundamental rights we cherish in the physical world.
At Metaphysic, we believe that technology isn’t neutral and that with “great powers comes great responsibility.”
Governance and gatekeepers
On Web2 platforms, like social networks, many of the potential harms discussed above are addressed through centralized content moderation.
The challenge is that platform operators become gatekeepers with definitive authority over user behavior—from the time any individual person logs in they become ‘users’ in a system governed by the platform operator. This authority is necessarily directed to optimize shareholder returns, sometimes to the detriment of the fundamental rights of individual users.
Regarding the hyperreal metaverse, we need to discuss the relationship between individuals and organizations—be they corporations or DAOs—that control who creates content and how it is distributed.
The stakes are high in a hyperreal metaverse that relies on the biometric and other privacy-sensitive data of individual users that is imported from the real world.
We must deeply consider how content moderation policies and other regulatory frameworks may impact users in the hyperreal metaverse and take proactive steps to limit these potential harms.
Labeling Manipulated and Hyperreal Content
In the future, hyperreal content in the metaverse will be indistinguishable from footage shot with a camera and XR technologies and wearables will immerse viewers to the extent that content feels real.
While this creates exciting new opportunities for creators to delight their audiences, there is also the potential that bad actors will use it to deceive, mislead, or defraud.
This raises important questions about the need to disclose and label both hyperreal and manipulated content and under what circumstances disclosure is warranted.
An excellent example of this tension is hyperreal representations of politicians and political messages in the metaverse.
An informed electorate needs high-quality and accurate information for democracy to function as intended. Does this mean politicians should be required to faithfully reflect their real-world identities and actions in the metaverse and disclose when they deviate from this baseline?
If so, who gets to decide and how will these policies be enforced? These questions don’t have easy answers, but they must be at the forefront of our considerations in building an internet powered by hyperreal content.
Building an Ethical Foundation
The ethical tensions set out above are not intended to be an exhaustive or proscriptive list.
Creating an ethical framework for the hyperreal metaverse is not an exercise in labeling some things as good and others as evil.
Rather, it is an open discussion about the pillars of a new social contract that will shape our actions in virtual public spaces.
Just as the metaverse will open new creative possibilities that we can’t yet imagine, so too will it create new ethical quandaries that our current frameworks aren’t equipped to handle.
While we can’t anticipate all the ways that the metaverse will evolve, it is critical that we begin to explore its ethical implications now so that we are prepared when new issues arise.
With these ideas in mind, we have designed products to explore issues of personal identity in the metaverse and we are committed to open dialogue in the future.
Only by working together can we build a hyperreal metaverse that embodies our highest social ideals and the best elements of human creativity while elevating our collective potential to new heights.
Last update: June 2022