Mass adoption of augmented reality will create new ethical issues, especially as we migrate beyond one-off experiences into a shared AR Cloud (or clouds), and as devices emerge which allow for a hyper-realistic blending of the real and digital.
If you can walk down the street and everyone you meet is black, or Asian, or, hey, a character from Star Trek, does this create disadvantages for vulnerable populations? If you’re attacked in a mall by another person, can they get off the hook by claiming that they didn’t think you were real?
A group of researchers, with the participation of Mel Slater, director of Event Lab in the Faculty of Psychology of the University of Barcelona (UB), have published a new paper exploring these and other scenarios.
The review covers both virtual and augmented realities and explores the double-edged sword of these technologies: what can be a benefit for one group of users can cause harm to another.
For example, introducing a phobic agent in a virtual environment (say, a spider) can be used for therapy (learning not to be afraid of spiders), but can also be used to, well, terrify a use.
“Despite all the benefits, however, XR technology also raises a host of interesting and important ethical questions of which readers should be aware. For instance, the fact that XR enables an individual to interact with virtual characters poses the question of whether the golden rule of reciprocity should apply to fictional virtual characters and, with the development of tools that allow for more realism, whether this should also extend to virtual representations of real people.“
Superrealism and XR
Being attacked or denigrated for the colour of your skin isn’t unique to virtual and augmented realities. Privacy concerns aren’t unique to any one platform.
The researchers thus focus on superrealism to help focus on ethical issues that may be unique to (or at least more clearly exacerbated by) XR.
“…we outline some possible ethical problems in XR that are exacerbated by the improvement in realness owing to superrealism. In other words, the issues described below might occur to a certain extent with the use of XR systems but are likely to be aggravated due to the sensation that what is happening virtually could be really happening.“