An open and inclusive metaverse will encourage more people to trust and adopt it. Image: Unsplash/UK Black Tech
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- If the metaverse is developed more openly and inclusively, people will be more trusting and open-minded about adopting it, the World Economic Forum’s head of media, entertainment and sports told Ipsos in an interview.
- Virtual environments can help reduce biases, build empathy and improve learning environments for individuals and businesses.
- But there are concerns about diversity, equity and inclusion not being considered in current product design.
This article was first published on Ipsos's monthly 'What the Future' magazine.
The World Economic Forum convenes global leaders on the biggest economic and social issues. Not surprisingly, the possibilities of the metaverse fall into its realm of looking at how new-frontier technologies can transform society at large, says Cathy Li, the WEF’s head of media, entertainment and sports. She contends that if the metaverse is developed in a more open and inclusive way, people will be more trusting of it and more open-minded about integrating it into their lives.
Kate MacArthur: Our research shows that most Americans are disinterested in the metaverse. What could change that?
Cathy Li: First is simply time. As the metaverse develops, new applications and use cases will emerge and both people and businesses will likely find value in them. Change also might depend on who builds the metaverse. If it’s a small group of very powerful technology firms, and if these firms are unable to work with others in the ecosystem to address concerns about privacy, accessibility, security, then a lot of people might be hesitant to adopt the new media. But if the metaverse is developed in a more open and inclusive way, people will be more trusting of it and more open-minded about integrating it into their lives.
MacArthur: Where would DEI fit?
Li: It’s both a solution and should be part of the design. There are concerns about DEI not being taken into consideration into product design, as-is now. For example, certain headsets only fit well with men but not with women. That's a very typical example and many of those issues are being addressed. At the same time, virtual environments can also be used to reduce biases, build empathy and improve learning environments for both individuals and businesses. An interesting study shows that VR can be more effective than 2D environments at training bystanders to deal with sexual harassment because the increased sense of presence can better replicate real-life experiences.
Another important opportunity is the ability to build environments virtually and see how people use them before they get built in the physical world. If used properly, it could have a huge impact on how things like urban design, manufacturing and civic participation could be improved through A/B testing. The challenge is making sure that these tests are performed ethically. But there are very good social science practices for ensuring studies are free from bias.
MacArthur: As people build and test these experiences, do they need considerations for specific identities?
Li: Different virtual worlds may serve different purposes. Then it's up to the owner, the builder of the different experiences, to decide who that should be open to, rather than everything be open to all, at all times.
MacArthur: How do we ensure virtual spaces are accessible to users who have disabilities?
Li: There's an argument that a virtual world improves accessibility because many experiences that couldn't be fully experienced by disabled users in the past, now can be accessed through AR/VR headsets in a way that makes sure people of all abilities have very similar experiences. On the other hand, a lot of the product design will need to take all this into account from the very beginning.
How is the World Economic Forum fostering a sustainable and inclusive digital economy?
MacArthur: How can we avoid repeating the ills of real society in the metaverse through governance?
Li: We are basically talking about regulating the internet, but with a new dimension because privacy and security in the metaverse are going to take on a different dimension. If you are an avatar and you want to preserve certain privacy, which also ensures safety, you may not want people to know that this avatar is you. But when it comes to financial transactions, which is an important foundation when it comes to enabling a real circular economy, how does the party you transact with know that you are who you say you are? Therefore, identity will be one of the most important issues under governance to be tackled, and we don't have clear answers now.
MacArthur: What can brands do to improve the virtual web’s economic viability and meet WEF goals?
Li: We did research with Ipsos and Nielsen. We built an index that measures representation in media. It shows that the greater diversity in representation is linked to higher trust scores for brands. This is probably going to be true of the metaverse as well in that the brands that speak to multiple audiences are likely to appeal to a broader base of consumers.
MacArthur: What role does the consortium of software companies have in solving disinformation, especially in virtual worlds?
Li: Prevention is going to be extremely important. How do we reward people for having proactive social behaviors? There's a better chance for people to behave more civilized in the virtual world compared to the internet.
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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.
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