Professor, Designer, Husband, Father, Gamer, Bagpiper

For many folks thinking about ethics in XR, the worries that motivate them arise from fears about all the ways the mass adoption of XR systems could go badly when those systems are created and controlled by profit-driven companies.  The scope of the problem seems daunting, especially when so many seem unworried by it.

Mel Slator just published a short paper in Frontiers in VR that is worth a read.  The big message is that yes, these are real worries, and one tangible thing we can do (especially as researchers) is start collecting empirical data on the effects we are worried about.  

The point of his article is not to say "we should focus on empirical data rather than the bigger picture".  Rather, it's that in order to make broader arguments forcefully, and have people take them seriously, we need (when we can) to have solid data backing up our belief in certain effects.  For example, we worry that a Facebook-controlled Metaverse might take all the bad effects of the Facebook click-driven algorithms, and make them worse.  If we can show that VR can increase negative emotions, bias, behavior, etc., then these worries are easier to justify to others.

He highlights some places to start (although my summaries here don't do his arguments justice):

  • Attitudinal and Behavioural Change.  Embodiment can lead to physiological, behavioural, attitudinal and cognitive changes in the participant as a function of the type of body. Can immersion and immersive experiences induce bias or change peoples attitudes more than other media, for example?  
  • Exiting VR Could Result in Negative Feelings.  Can leaving captivating and stimulating VR spaces, and returning to a mundane/boring/less-stimulating space result increate negative emotions, more-so than other media (from books to social media)?  If so, what can we do about it?
  • Separate Realities.  Filter-bubbles, separate media ecosystems, and (soon) deepfakes, people arguably already live in distinct realities.  Add in the effects of immersion and presence, and things could be much worse.  Can we demonstrate this?

The article is short and well worth a read.

Beyond Speculation About the Ethics of Virtual Reality: The Need for Empirical Results
1 IntroductionStanislaw Lem’s 1974 novel The Futurological Congress describes an apparently wonderful utopian world. The problem is that in reality the world is in a state of ruin but government addition of hallucinogens to the water supply and air generates the illusion in people that they are liv…
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