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Virtual Reality : Ethics

First Code of Conduct for the Use of Virtual Reality Established

Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz (Germany) (03/04/16)

Philosophers at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz believe the use of virtual reality (VR) by researchers and the general public could present ethical issues.

Both philosophers have participated over the last several years in an EU project on "Virtual Embodiment and Robotic Re-Embodiment" (VERE) with a focus on illusions of embodiment, in which one has the feeling of owning and controlling a body that is not one's own, such as an avatar in VR.

The technology needed to generate virtual worlds from home computers is expected to soon be widely available to the general public. Professors Michael Madary and Thomas Metzinger are particularly concerned about the unanticipated consequences of the technology on the psychological states and self-images of users.

According to Madary and Metzinger, participants in VR studies have showed strong emotional reactions and behavioral changes, suggesting the technology could have an impact on their lives.

They say VR creates a scenario in which the user's bodily appearance and visual environment are determined by the host of the virtual world, which raises the possibility VR will create vast opportunities for psychological manipulation. "These studies suggest that VR poses risks that are novel, that go beyond the risks of traditional psychological experiments in isolated environments, and that go beyond the risks of existing media technology for the general public," Madary and Metzinger say.

They have developed recommendations for the use of VR, and call for long-term studies into the psychological effects of immersion. They also see a need for regulations regarding ownership and individuation of avatars, in addition to surveillance and data protection.

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