As you’ve noticed over the course of my several blog posts on Scribe, XR has practical applications across numerous industries, from creative fields like entertainment and fashion to academic disciplines such as education and medicine. It’s undoubtedly going to be a very important tool for us going forward- many believe it is the future of how we interact with digital information. People are always looking for ways to be more engaged, to interact with technology such that it becomes an extension of ourselves. This is what feels the most satisfying and yields the most pleasant user experience.
This technology is booming right now. It’s advancing rapidly, which is exciting, but also quite a bit daunting. With so many new capabilities coming out one after another, it’s nearly impossible for the moral debate to keep up with each change that rounds the corner. As a result, the rules of the AR and VR worlds are very underdeveloped, legally speaking. It’s seemingly easy to detach the ethics of our real world from that of digital realities fabricated in VR and AR, but in actuality, the digital and physical worlds are becoming increasingly intertwined. The advent of “superrealism” brings with it both stunning visual experiences and possibly dire social and psychological consequences. The line between what is distinguishable as “real” and “unreal”, or “human” and “non-human” is becoming blurred. Facebook is currently working on what they like to call “Codec Avatars”, insanely true-to-life VR avatars that are nearly an exact replica of Facebook users in the real world (Wired.com). Not only do they look exactly like you, their movements are remarkably human-like, so they can move like you too. The idea is to create a digital persona for yourself, as your representation in the Metaverse. It’s technology like this that has given rise to industry-changing initiatives like the Lil Miquela Instagram account, featuring the world’s first computer-generated social media influencer. It has tested the limits of what people’s minds are open to accept, which unfortunately, is not just limited to cool robot influencers, but also misinformation and fake news.
Truth is able to be created out of lies. Reality is fully at the disposal of the creator. This has so much potential for good, and of course, equally (if not, more) potential for bad. Deepfakes are an example of Superrealism at its peak: the line between AI and human becomes totally obliterated. Other concerns that have risen are data privacy and toxic behavior online (Frontiers). Especially when trying to replicate real life in the form of avatars, tons of data must be collected on an individual’s identity. This is data that can be corrupted or used with malicious intent.
Should our goal be to make the virtual world as “super-realistic” as possible? Is it okay for developers to work toward creating a reality that they have full control over? These are the gritty ethical questions that have yet to be answered, and are often overlooked as the world prioritizes advancing XR technology. We have to start taking into consideration the consequences, even those that are unintended.