Joint efforts to build a responsible & sustainable metaverse

30 Nov 2022 08:15h - 09:45h

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The term metaverse was introduced in 1992 and has recently attracted a lot of attention around the world. Supported by diverse advanced technologies, the metaverse is a virtual world linked and created by scientific and technological means, mapped, and interacted with the real world, capable of changing people’s lifestyles and fostering development. By 2030, the global metaverse market is expected to amount to US$1.6 trillion. Leading firms, not necessarily tech-oriented, are already trying to establish a virtual company (digital twins) in the digital world. While it can benefit society in many aspects (e.g., legal education, where the metaverse can help link theory to practise and open access resources for policymakers, with the South African SDG Hub being an important initiative based on natural language processing), the metaverse can also bring a series of policy and security challenges and environmental concerns.

In terms of technology, the metaverse may boost the application and development of virtual and augmented reality, 5G, blockchain, computing, and mobile communications. Generative artificial intelligence (AI), especially, is a key technology behind the metaverse. With respect to AI, the 41st UNESCO General Conference released the first global standard-setting instrument on AI ethics, which sets a cornerstone for the governance of AI ethics and whose recommended principles could be applied to the metaverse. It provides four core values:

  • Respect, protection, and promotion of human rights
  • Environment and ecosystem flourishing and fundamental freedoms and human dignity
  • Ensuring diversity and inclusiveness
  • Living in a peaceful, just, and interconnected society

These values ​​form the basis of the following principles:

  • Proportionality
  • Safety and security
  • Fairness and non-discrimination
  • Sustainability
  • Privacy and data protection,
  • Human oversight and determination
  • Transparency and explainability
  • Awareness and literacy
  • Multistakeholder and adaptive governance and collaboration

With respect to governance, the UN instruments, consisting of transnational declarations, conventions, treaties, frameworks, and directives, have the problem of complexity (facts, context, actors, etc.). Considering that the UN text requires synergy, basic management principles are crucial for the success of interoperability. Since interoperability is usually done in large silos, the establishment of cross-organisational information infrastructures is important to support the decision-making process and action alternatives with high-quality data. Another aspect to consider is the transparency of algorithms, procedures, and abstractions, which aim to ensure fairness, transparency and explainability, and human oversight of algorithms, procedures, and abstractions. In summary, timely implementation guided by the principles of holistic information management is key to every aspect of the information society. 

Given society’s lack of preparation for the early version of the metaverse and its implications during the discussion, it was proposed that the metaverse be based on Web 2.5, instead of Web 2 and 3, which provides for centralised governance and decentralised operation.

On the security and privacy dimension, the discussion presented two approaches to enhance digital security and privacy in the metaverse. The first through technology (e.g., blockchain, federated learning, digital twins) and the second through policies, regulation, and standards.

On the use of the metaverse for education, apart from the benefits that include certain and real information, affordable and fast access, adaptable and creative tools, the challenges related to lack of training, digital literacy, and resources were also mentioned. 

The discussion ended with the following recommendations/considerations on a future policy framework:

  • Need for regulation that addresses the risks presented by these technologies, but without hindering innovation or constraining information 
  • Consider the ethical principles set forth in the UNESCO Ethical Recommendations on AI 
  • Engage society in the process
  • Keep policy updated (which governments might struggle with) and in line with national and international policies 
  • Political will needs to allocate funds for research and development to promote innovation

By Isabella Bassani


The session in keywords

WS217 WORDCLOUD Joint efforts to build a responsible sustainable Metaverse IGF2022