Could the metaverse be more reliable than our current Internet?

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This article was produced in collaboration between The European Sting and the World Economic Forum.

Author: Cathy Li, Lead, AI, Data and Metaverse; Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum in Geneva

  • Despite all the promise offered by the internet and new immersive environments, there has been a huge erosion of trust related to issues such as data privacy and online safety.
  • Better global governance, including on issues such as user data sharing, could help rebuild that lost trust.
  • By considering social, ethical and human factors from the outset, we can ensure that new immersive technologies improve our lives and align with our shared values.

The Internet represents one of the most remarkable achievements in the field of communication and information networks. It is considered to be the largest and most extensive system of its kind ever created by man, offering unlimited capabilities. The Internet enables users to gain unprecedented access to information, fosters robust community connectivity, and creates tremendous economic opportunity.

However, the current landscape of the Internet encompassing its deployment, use and management has experienced a significant erosion of trust. Surprisingly, only 60% of users in 20 countries express confidence in the reliability of the Internet, reflecting widespread global distrust.

These puzzling results make it increasingly necessary to explore whether there is a promising path for the Internet to address crucial issues such as privacy, security and social consequences, thus paving the way for a future that is both engaging and secure.

Better global governance could be one way to achieve this. This involves establishing clear rules that ensure that user data sharing and interactions are beneficial and in line with their expectations and values. Users seek assurances that they are not harmed and that they have better control over their personal data. Concerns about surveillance, privacy, targeted advertising, and identity theft dominate their thoughts.


How does the World Economic Forum contribute to the metaverse?

The World Economic Forum explores the potential of the metaverse in several ways, with key focuses on governance and value creation and development of its own metaverse, the Global Collaboration Village.

Our Definition and construction of the Metaverse initiative seeks to lead the development of a secure, interoperable, and economically viable metaverse by uniting stakeholders from various sectors, including government, academia, business, and civil society.

It does this through two interconnected binaries: metaverse governance and value creation. Both pathways take a forward-thinking, ethical approach and work collaboratively to balance governance with economic and social opportunity.

Explore our Definition and construction of the metaverse Initiative.

The Global Collaboration Village is the first global purpose-driven metaverse platform. Pioneering the Forum and in partnership with Microsoft and Accenture, it seeks to enhance more sustained public-private cooperation and spur action to achieve large-scale impact.

Inclusive and responsible in design, the Global Collaboration Village is a creative place to imagine alternative futures, explore ideas and systems in a transparent and safe way and imagine what the future of multilateral collaboration could be.

Learn more about Global Collaboration Village

Additionally, users require physical, emotional, and psychological security in online spaces. They aspire to feel included and valued in the digital realm. As the Internet evolves, it will provide experiences that will deeply engage people, intensifying the need for a safe and fulfilling online environment.

Creating a thriving online economy

The World Economic Forum’s Defining and Building the Metaverse initiative is dedicated to working with diverse stakeholders to address these significant risks associated with future immersive environments, while promoting a thriving online economy.

The key to achieving this lies in the decisions of developers, business leaders and policy makers. By prioritizing specific aspects, we can create immersive environments that enhance in-person social interactions rather than replace them. Giving importance to privacy and security is paramount, as it allows for the development of technologies that effectively safeguard these concerns.

To establish a more user-centric approach to immersive environments, commercial entities need to exercise restraint and discipline, even in the face of competing business priorities. Currently, many developers prioritize the bottom line of their investors, relegating the user experience to a secondary consideration at best. This incentive structure needs to be transformed. Developers should be incentivized to prioritize the people who will be using their technology and be impacted by its use.

Building a thriving economy that prioritizes human needs is entirely doable. It is essential to recognize that pushing harmful practices on consumers may produce short-term profits, but will ultimately lead to long-term business failure. Therefore, developers and businesses need to understand that prioritizing user well-being and satisfaction is not only ethically responsible, but also a more sustainable approach to long-term success.

In certain situations, companies will need to evaluate complex and nuanced trade-offs that require in-depth analysis and careful consideration. For example, they will need to determine the type of personally identifiable data in the metaverse and evaluate its security as it is transmitted from devices to the cloud. They will also need to secure other companies’ devices to enable interoperability and portability. Additionally, there will be challenges related to protecting children from inappropriate spaces without relying on age data collection.

A remarkable opportunity

Improved governance in the realm of immersive technologies and understanding the impact of these technologies on society are crucial focal points for the Forum and are addressed by the recently launched reports on Privacy and Security and Social Implications of the Metaverse. It is essential that people recognize the importance of this aspect and develop a clear understanding of what constitutes responsible governance.

We currently have a tremendous opportunity to establish responsible technologies for immersive experiences. Seizing this golden moment is imperative before these technologies become more widely adopted. Retrofitting security, safety, privacy protection, and other essential components at a later stage could be prohibitively expensive and impractical. By prioritizing governance now, we can lay a solid foundation that will ensure the responsible and sustainable development of immersive technologies in the future.

Similar to environmental review processes undertaken prior to large-scale construction projects or human subject review committees for medical and psychological studies, it is critical to establish a human and social review framework to evaluate the impacts of new immersive technologies on human well-being, health, privacy, and social interactions.

Conducting such assessments in advance would allow us to gain valuable insights into the potential risks associated with these technologies. This knowledge would enable us to design innovative solutions that align with our humanity and values ​​rather than attempting to circumvent or suppress them.

Incorporating a human and social review process would provide us with a comprehensive understanding of the implications of emerging technologies. It would allow us to harness the brilliance and dedication of the people who work in this field. Armed with a complete picture of the ramifications of their work, these talented innovators could develop technologies in ways that minimize potential future regrets.

By considering social, ethical and human factors from the outset, we can ensure that new immersive technologies improve our lives and align with our shared values. This would help build a future where innovation and responsibility go hand in hand.

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