ARPost has covered the XR Safety Initiative in the past. This organization informs individuals, organizations, and policymakers on the potential safety and privacy issues of immersive technologies.
That increasingly includes potential safety and privacy concerns that come from supporting technologies, which is why the organization teamed up with MKAI to host the second Metaverse Citizen Forum in AltspaceVR. The event was also livestreamed on AWE Live. One main topic of the event was the convergence of emerging technologies that add opportunity and nuance to online experiences.
“Today, we’re going to explore the converging technologies that are creating the metaverse,” XRSI CEO and founder Kavya Pearlman said early in the event. She specifically mentioned artificial intelligence, extended reality, Web3, blockchain, and distributed ledger technology.
The event, the second in the “town hall” style series that started at the end of XR Safety Week last December, was co-hosted by Pearlman and MKAI chair Richard Foster-Fletcher. The event featured three additional panelists, but half of the time was devoted to questions and comments from the attendees.
“This is such an important conversation. With all of these industries, there are windows that open for a while and this window is open right now to create a safe and open metaverse,” said Foster-Fletcher. “We’re doing this because we want to address some of the emerging challenges head-on… and there are some big challenges.”
Opportunities and Obstacles in the Metaverse
The discussion started with panelists stating what the metaverse meant to them, as well as some of the areas that they are principally involved in. Both of these tasks necessarily involved stating some of the similarities and differences between the metaverse and the internet as it exists today.
“I’m not sure I see a lot of wholly new issues. I think that we can learn a lot from online gaming,” said Microsoft Senior Attorney Carrie Valladares. “But there are some issues that are necessarily exacerbated and we need to be creative in addressing them.”
Many of those “issues that are necessarily exacerbated” come from emerging technologies like AI.
“If we want to really supercharge a safe and immersive future, we need to understand that AI is currently encoding the way things are in the physical world, including our biases and power structures,” said Transform.AI CEO and co-founder Manal Siddiqui.
One area of technology that is becoming increasingly a part of immersive experiences, and that also brings its own opportunities and obstacles, is blockchain and cryptocurrency.
“One change that the metaverse is making is in the economy it is creating,” said Tech Mahindra CIO Nikhil Malhotra. “Digital natives can transact with the world using technology like blockchain.”
While she could not sit on the panel in person, the forum also included a recorded message from Australian eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman-Grant.
“We want the proactive change which has already been applied thus far to be applied to the metaverse,” said Inman-Grant. “Building protections in at the beginning rather than fixing things retroactively after the damage has been done.”
The Potential for Legislation
While America doesn’t have an “eSafety Commission,” the question of whether policy should be enacted that specifically affects these technologies and what that policy might look like was a big issue at the event. It included a number of common themes in this area including whether individuals and policymakers know enough about these technologies for impactful legislation.
“This is a complex technology that requires in-depth knowledge to understand and it’s not the specialization of most regulators,” said Valladares. “If our policies and principles are really human-centered, I’m not convinced that the metaverse requires new policies… The challenge is not so much in revisiting the principles as in thinking about how those principles apply.”
Siddiqui pointed out that while it is dangerous to push technology too fast, it can also be dangerous to push legislation too fast saying that “it takes time to understand the true nature” of the interactions that people share in immersive experiences. She also commented that there are certain things that regulations have a hard time addressing that need different solutions.
“Regulations may apply to access points in the metaverse, but the actual interactions in the metaverse and the creative possibilities that have yet to take hold will require a new way of thinking,” said Siddiqui.
“When we consider the metaverse, we are not just considering social spaces; we are considering massive growth of companies and how individuals interact with those companies,” said Malhotra.
Understanding Personal Data
One of the more controversial ways that individuals interact with companies is through data. This includes the data that we generate ourselves and carry with us through immersive experiences, as well as the data that companies collect on us – even if we’re not the ones using the technology.
“Even if you’re not consuming augmented reality, you’re still a bystander – your data is still being captured,” Pearlman said. “There is so much data that is at stake.”
During both the initial panel discussion and the audience questions, the idea of exchanging data for goods and services was addressed, with one attendee saying that he doesn’t mind sharing online information as long as it isn’t personal contact information. While the panel had asked whether legislators understood this technology, it now asked whether individuals understand.
“I really don’t think people understand what data is. It’s not just your email,” said Siddiqui. “There’s a lot being done to you because of the data you’re providing that you might not necessarily be aware of.”
Foster-Fletcher suggested that in some cases, specifically in the blockchain space, a “lexicology” has been developed that makes it deliberately difficult for non-specialists to understand emerging technology.
The question of personal data management across immersive experiences also came up, touching on the idea of “self-sovereign identity.” Also discussed was the relationship between avatars and identity.
“One of the most interesting aspects of the metaverse, if we get safety right, is that a user can select a representative avatar that maybe shows something more (about who they are as a person),” said Valladares.
How to Keep the Conversation Going
While the next immersive Metaverse Citizens Forum might be a bit of a wait, Pearlman concluded the event by inviting interested individuals to keep an eye out for Metaverse Citizens Forum, Twitter spaces, and LinkedIn groups where the discussion continues year-round.