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By Michaela Jamelska: If we don’t have our say about human rights in the Metaverse now, we could end up in a ‘metaworse’ world

Article is written by: Michaela Jamelska

Current human rights declarations and treaties were drafted and ratified to real-world issues and circumstances, and they are already insufficient in the online environment. No matter how much AI large companies integrate into their new systems, the end-users/consumers will be humans, so human rights should be at the center of this technological development. Human rights concepts are often seen as too idealistic; however, they not only set the limits to extremism, they also promote a more tolerant, empathetic, and inclusive society.

I read an opinion recently where someone said that being in a virtual world is just an illusion of identity, and our freedom is limited to what the corporation decides to do. Simply put, they are saying that our entire existence is cancellable, or in the hands of others, which conflicts with basic human rights ideology. While their opinion has some truth, we face risks in the real world, too—we are even ‘cancellable’ in a way if someone decides to attack and kill us in the street. While this may be an extreme and drastic comparison, it illustrates the idea that we can’t make assumptions about the limits of our freedoms in the virtual world. Certainly, our freedom in the online world has limits drawn from commercial interests, but our freedom has limitations in the real world as well, stemming from political interests, commercial interests, and so on. We don’t have full freedom in the real world; neither will we have it in the virtual world.

It’s important not to over-idealize the current reality and use it to submerge the virtual world.

Undoubtedly, a huge challenge lies in front of us as a society regarding how to ensure our rights are respected in the digital world. Figuring out which laws apply in digital spaces, data privacy consents, and other human rights-related issues will be complicated. As long as corporations are in charge of providing the Metaverse, commercial interests will be asserted into our virtual lives.

To start drafting human rights guidelines and frameworks at the moment, when the Metaverse isn’t fully functional, may be difficult, but in the end, creating a Metaverse isn’t only about the programming. The White House has already started to initiate the AI bill of rights to “clarify the rights and freedoms of individuals using, or subject to, data-driven biometric technologies.”

Their efforts are a good start, but these rights will remain merely an idealistic concept if they are not backed up by the corporate and public action of integrating them within the systems. Last year alone, the approximate investment into AI was more than $75 billion, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. That kind of money accelerates the development exponentially. No approximate number is available for how much is invested yearly into human rights development. Every investment made for a solution that contributes to improving human rights could be considered an indirect investment in human rights, but I don’t estimate that the direct investment into human rights development is as high as it is into AI. Consider the official website of the UN Human Rights Department, which states that it gets a tiny part of the UN’s regular budget—only 3.7%. For the rest, the UN Human Rights Department relies heavily on voluntary contributions.

The time to have a say about human rights in the virtual world is now, but it is also the time for large corporations to not only answer the questions about how they will assure their technology will be human rights-centric but to set a budget for human rights and put the money where our fundamental rights should be … starting now.