As technology advances, the concept of a metaverse and digital, virtual, and immersive environments has become more popular. However, as with any new technology, such as generative AI and the widespread use of avatars, there are potential challenges that need to be addressed in order to ensure the safety and well-being of users.
Some of the key challenges refer to how to protect users from physical and cognitive harm, as there might be challenges related to - for instance - a lack of feedback from the physical environment when fully immersed in a digital, virtual environment.
When people use different devices to access the metaverse it might be easy to experience physical discomfort or even to get physically hurt by hitting real-world objects in the surrounding space, as there is a lack of feedback on the surrounding physical environment when the person is fully immersed in the metaverse.
Similarly, the ergonomic configuration and the excessive weight of VR headsets or other wearable devices can constrain movements or carry muscular discomfort if worn for excessive time.
Analogously, the proxemics in the physical environment, which refers to the amount of space people feel necessary to set between themselves and others, will transition in the metaverse as the digital proxemics.
When considering mental and cognitive safety there are first social challenges to investigate, rather than purely technological challenges. When entering the metaverse excessive noise, overwhelming information, and behavioral, verbal, or visual harassment, can lead to a variety of emotions such as fatigue, depression, and embarrassment, which could carry a loss of self-confidence or even more impactful consequences for the user.
While the metaverse can be outlined as an immersive, digital, almost surreal environment, the human dimension must prevail. Therefore, by creating a digital, immersive world where information about avatars, real-time behavior tracking, and potentially digital twins of human beings are created and stored, there might be possibilities that this information can affect the psychological, physical, and biological sphere of human beings participating or even the ones not joining the metaverse.
Psychological, physical, and biological behavior will undoubtedly inform the study and development of safeguarding mechanisms.
How will safeguarding mechanisms will be shaped to secure a good metaverse for all?
Will an AI-based algorithm, ChatGPT, or similar with a “human in the loop process” be able to discern with a case-by-case approach what is acceptable from what is tolerable?
Will the creation of digital filters, friction processes, or shield systems reduce, temporarily flag, suspend, or permanently block the activity of certain avatars?
What is certain is that an emergent need to empower the user of the metaverse with a new language and new heuristics while guaranteeing people’s physical and cognitive safety and overall well-being is of great importance for designing a good metaverse.
To answer these ethical questions and to identify new challenging queries, the Metavetics Institute is the only global, community-driven independent global network of passionate scientists, thought leaders and industry experts committed to ensuring that metaverses and digital, virtual, and immersive environments are designed and developed by delivering integrity, privacy, safety, diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion.
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