Digital Extended Reality

In short

Digital Extended Reality technologies combine advanced computing systems (hardware and software) that can change how people connect with each other and their surroundings and influence or manipulate human actions through interactions with virtual environments.

Key ethical concerns surround cybersecurity and how these technologies may impact human behavioural and social dynamics. For example, technology mimicking human responses may give rise to responses as though it were actually human, while developments in Extended Reality may lead to undue influence from ‘nudging’ techniques.

More about Digital Extended Reality

Digital Extended Reality could change how people connect with each other and their surroundings in physical and virtual settings.

This cluster of technologies includes Artificial-Intelligence-based technologies emulating or connecting with human cognitive functions (e.g., voice, gesture, movement, choices, feelings), as well as human-digital machine interaction and data processing technologies that could reproduce, replace, adapt, and influence human actions. Their potential field of application includes remote assistance for educational, medical, and training purposes through virtual and digital devices such as mobile phones, computers, and autonomous systems.

This technology family also includes computing systems used for Natural Language Processing (NLP) applications intended to process and analyse a vast quantity of human natural language information (e.g., voice, text, images), extracting the most relevant data to profile and influence opinions and behaviours. This might lead to unexpected concerns, such as a “chilling” effect, where people avoid speaking or acting freely to not be influenced or controlled by digital technologies and online platforms.

Potential ethical repercussions of such technologies include cognitive and physiological impacts as well as behavioural and social dynamics, such as influencing users’ behaviours, and monitoring and supervising people.

Ethical, legal and societal challenges

TechEthos is concentrating its efforts on understanding the ethical, societal and legal consequences of Climate Engineering technologies – bringing on board the concerns of different groups of actors and looking at technologies from different perspectives.

Ethical issues

At this stage of the project, TechEthos partners have completed a scan of ethical guidance (in the form of codes, guidelines and frameworks) that already exist specifically for Digital Extended Reality or considered relevant in ethical discussions on this technology family. They have also looked at some key ethical principles – autonomy, integrity, freedom, human rights, and privacy – and how they manifest in the academic literature on Digital Extended Reality. The following is a short summary of the findings of the ‘Methodology for ethical analysis, scan results of existing ethical codes and guidelines’ report, which can be accessed in full via the button below.

Autonomy: The literature identifies many types of threats to people’s autonomy stemming from Extended Digital Reality. One example is having technology alter users’ behaviour without them knowing about that modification.

Freedom: A sufficient degree of freedom is necessary for a person to be able to exercise, for example, their autonomy. In relation to Digital Extended Reality, two freedom-related concerns are addiction and surveillance.

Integrity and privacy: These two principles are often considered under the same umbrella. Bodily integrity is connected to the possibility to have privacy from, or control, third parties accessing information and sensory functions of the body. Using Digital Extended Reality devices raises threats to informational privacy, continuous monitoring, loss of anonymity or unintended disclosure of information, among others.

Please note that work is ongoing on this topic and the contents of this section will be updated as more information becomes available.

Read the report
Legal issues and challenges

TechEthos is reviewing the current state of the law and policy responses related to the Digital Extended Reality, as evidenced in policy, legislation, case law and regulation at the international, European and national (through nine national case studies) levels. We are looking at existing and proposed legal frameworks, as well as current legal debates about the future of legal governance. Our research will focus on legal issues with significant human rights and socio-economic impacts that are of high policy relevance, particularly in the European context. Through this research, we will be able to identify gaps and challenges in existing law, and propose ways to enhance legal frameworks for the future.

Work is ongoing and further details of this analysis will be available in the summer of 2022.

Media discourse

Media discourse on technologies both reflects and shapes public perceptions. As such, it is a powerful indicator of societal awareness and acceptance of these technologies. TechEthos is carrying out an analysis of the discourses on Digital Extended Reality in 13 EU and non-EU countries (Austria, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Romania, Serbia, Spain, Sweden, UK, and USA). The media analysis will complement insights into public awareness and perception obtained by engaging with members of the public.

Work is ongoing and further details of this analysis will be available in June 2022.

Applicable rules and guidance

TechEthos is considering the state of ethical and legal guidance and frameworks and will identify areas for improvement and make recommendations.

Ethical guidelines, frameworks and codes

At this stage of the project, TechEthos partners have completed a scan of ethical guidance (in the form of codes, guidelines and frameworks) that already exist specifically for Digital Extended Reality or which are considered relevant in ethical discussions on this technology family. The following is a short summary of the findings of the ‘Methodology for ethical analysis, scan results of existing ethical codes and guidelines’ report, which can be accessed in full via the button below.

Ethical codes. The project came across a single reference to a proposed code of ethics for Virtual Reality (VR). This represents a finding in itself which could have various explanations, including the way in which the search was conducted.

Several ethical frameworks have been proposed by researchers for Digital Extended Reality technologies. Among the perspectives they consider important are acceptability (whether a technology can be judged as instrumentally or morally desirable), trustworthiness, and a consideration of how behaviour in the virtual world impacts the physical world.

Ethical guidelines. At this stage, many researchers consider Extended Digital Reality to be quite diverse and lacking clear guidelines and standards, whether in the fields of health care or ICT. The recommendations proposed fall into or combine two broad categories, asking for general ethical guidelines in line with the general risks of research, or technology-specific ones, considering the special features of certain technologies such as re-entering into the real world after a VR experience.

Read the report
Legal frameworks

TechEthos is reviewing the current state of the law and policy responses related to Digital Extended Reality, as evidenced in policy, legislation, case law and regulation at the international, European and national (through nine national case studies) levels. We are looking at existing and proposed legal frameworks, as well as current legal debates about the future of legal governance. Our research will focus on legal issues with significant human rights and socio-economic impacts that are of high policy relevance, particularly in the European context. Through this research, we will be able to identify gaps and challenges in existing law, and propose ways to enhance legal frameworks for the future.

Work is ongoing and further details of this analysis will be available in the summer of 2022.

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TechEthos has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under Grant Agreement no. 101006249. This website and its contents reflect only their authors' view. The Research Executive Agency and the European Commission are not responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained herein.