entsminger6_ SERGIO FLORESAFP via Getty Images_metaverse SERGIO FLORES/AFP via Getty Images

Who Will Establish Metaverse Ethics?

Many companies are angling to shape how virtual reality and digital identities will be used to organize more of our daily lives – from work and health care to shopping, gaming, and other forms of entertainment. The opportunities of the metaverse seem limitless, but in the absence of independent oversight, so do the risks.

LONDON – The “metaverse” isn’t here yet, and when it arrives it will not be a single domain controlled by any one company. Facebook wanted to create that impression when it changed its name to Meta, but its rebranding coincided with major investments by Microsoft and Roblox. All are angling to shape how virtual reality and digital identities will be used to organize more of our daily lives – from work and health care to shopping, gaming, and other forms of entertainment.

The metaverse is not a new concept. The term was coined by sci-fi novelist Neal Stephenson in his 1992 book Snow Crash, which depicts a hyper-capitalist dystopia in which humanity has collectively opted into life in virtual environments. So far, the experience has been no less dystopian here in the real world. Most experiments with immersive digital environments have been marred immediately by bullying, harassment, digital sexual assault, and all the other abuses that we have come to associate with platforms that “move fast and break things.”

None of this should come as a surprise. The ethics of new technologies have always lagged behind the innovations themselves. That is why independent parties should provide governance models sooner rather than later – before self-interested corporations do it with their own profit margins in mind.

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