Does the Metaverse need its own character?

Two people enter the metaverse. They appear as avatars, wearing virtual reality headsets and tactile suits that provide virtual feedback to the body. One person virtually attacks the other. What happens next?

It sounds completely unreal, but experts believe that the dark side of the metaverse and the potential for crime, from robbery to hacking to avatar rape, still need to be fully addressed.

How to control the metaverse, an online world where people can live their lives as avatars, has thus opened a new frontier for governments, tech companies and law enforcement.

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The question was prominent this week at the Abu Dhabi International National Security and Resilience Show conference, where attendees heard difficult questions asked about trying to control the metaverse.

“If we’re starting to see the metaverse doing what I think it will, which is getting more and more realistic and bigger and bigger, then you need to start asking some really tough questions about what physical character represents in virtual reality,” said Gareth Stubbs. , a former British police officer who spoke at the conference on Monday.

“If we introduce tactile combinations with body touch feedback … it opens up a huge amount of crime categories that focus on the body,” said Stubbs, who teaches at Rabdan Academy in Abu Dhabi.

“It could be governed by things like consent. But it is open to abuse and open to hacking and open to representation.

What is the Metaverse?

The Metaverse is conceived as a new online world where someone with a 3D avatar, a representation of yourself, uses a virtual reality headset to go to concerts, work or just socialize. It was first mentioned in a 1992 science fiction novel, Snowfall. online community, second life, which was released in 2003, was loosely based on the concept. But interest has grown in recent years thanks to technological advances and huge investments by companies like Facebook, which in 2021 was renamed Meta.

Some remain skeptical and it is believed that the Metaverse is still years away from realization. However, interest is growing and the UAE has announced that it will establish an office of the Ministry of Economy there. Ajman police also conducted trials, and last month’s Dubai Metaverse Assembly attracted experts from around the world to explore its potential.

But there are also questions about the police and who is responsible for regulating them. There have also been reports of avatars harassing other people in Meta’s existing virtual reality world, Horizons.

“From an American perspective, crimes in the metaverse are mostly about inappropriate behavior [harassment, use of explicit language, racism etc]”Said Professor Marco Marabelli, an industry expert who teaches at Bentley University in the United States.

“These are important questions. The problem is that because the metaverse “works” in real time, it is often difficult to keep digital records of what is happening on the platforms. This makes it difficult to prosecute those responsible. This is cause for concern ”.

The technology that allows the Metaverse to be successful, such as virtual reality headsets, is constantly improving.  APE

Need for a faster response from regulators

Experts from the Abu Dhabi conference suggested that governments and regulators around the world weren’t moving fast enough. Stubbs said it was imperative that the early internet anarchy, in which criminals exploited the slow response of regulators, did not repeat itself with the metaverse.

“People would say it was the golden age of the internet,” he said. “Yes, it was, but a lot of bad things have happened besides good things. Look at cybercrime. It was stratospheric in growth. This was the untold story as the internet grew.

“Law and regulation… it will take years to put in place and you will have this black spot… of unregulated space and this unregulated space gives way to bad actors. I’m not saying that’s all you’ll get [but] we shouldn’t ignore it.

Professor Marabelli said one of the problems with emerging technologies is that lawmakers often only start addressing the problem after the damage has been done.

“A partial solution … is to generate high-level laws and regulations that protect citizens’ fundamental rights with respect to technologies. Data privacy laws, laws governing how algorithms can be used with the public in terms of transparency and accountability, etc. lit, “he said.

“To this end, Europe is one step ahead of the United States,” he said, highlighting the adaptation to the GDPR and the first proposed legal framework on the use of artificial intelligence. .

“But recently the [President Joe] The Biden administration is taking significant steps to protect citizens from the inappropriate use of algorithm-based systems, “said Professor Marabelli, referring to the release of the AI ​​Bill of Rights, a set of guidelines that aims to encourage the use of responsible for artificial intelligence.

He also pointed out that governments don’t drive technology research the way they do – private companies – and often don’t have the tools to evaluate technology because these companies often don’t share data. potential dark side. . He mentioned the the Wall Street newspaper article that revealed that Instagram led young teens with eating disorders to eat less.

“If there hadn’t been an informant, we would never have known about this internal research. This is very problematic, ”said Professor Marabelli.

Gareth Stubbs is a former British police officer who now teaches at Abu Dhabi's Rabdan Academy.  Photo: Rabdan Academy

What would the police look like in the Metaverse? First, platforms could use online tools and artificial intelligence to detect misbehavior. Meta has even introduced a tool to try to stop misbehavior where people can prevent others from interacting with them, but this puts the blame on users.

Another is a speed camera-like system where someone who breaks the rules is fined in the real world, while a third is the emergence of volunteer police officers similar to the moderators seen on social media groups today. But what’s also possible, Stubbs said, is a strange new world of police officer avatars dispensing justice online.

“We could see … an avatar of a police officer on active patrol similar to how I’d be on foot patrol in central Blackpool,” Mr said could be a visual deterrent.

We might also see “avatar prison”, because the avatar is so tied to your real life, not being able to use it would be a real punishment. “I know it’s kind of a reimaging of the guard system, but it doesn’t cause any physical harm to the person,” Stubbs said.

“Technically it’s not incarceration, but the lines are blurring. It’s strange. But we will probably see the creation of a new kind of police in the metaverse. It won’t look the old one. The challenge will be trying to figure out what it looks like.

Despite skepticism in some quarters, investments are pouring into the metaverse. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that this year he imagines a “billion people” in the metaverse spending hundreds of dollars each on digital goods. But experts warn that VR headsets are still far from comfortable and that it will be years before their potential for reshaping health education sectors is seen.

“It is currently at the center of research on what we call ‘the future of work'”, said Professor Marabelli.

“However, the technology … is still very immature. Mark Zuckerberg said he thinks the Metaverse will be ready for the mainstream in five years. I think a decade might be a more accurate bet. But it will come. And it will change many work practices and perhaps our private lives. How did the Internet and social networks.

Updated: Oct 14, 2022, 6pm

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