Metavers: what if killing an avatar becomes a real crime?

The senior UAE official believes that serious crimes should be outlawed in the metaverse just as they are in real life.

Omar Sultan Al Olama, the Emirati Minister for Artificial Intelligence (yes, that is indeed his official title) takes his role very seriously. And when it comes to the metaverse, the interested party has very clear-cut ideas, and some will probably leave observers skeptical. This is the case of its positioning on crime in this virtual space; for the minister, people who would be guilty of “serious crimes” in the metaverse should suffer the penal consequences in real life.

Of course, the concept of criminal liability in cyberspace is not entirely new. Everyone knows today that the behavior of Internet users can have very real consequences on the lives of the people concerned. In recent years, we have witnessed the emergence of many citizen or government initiatives aimed at making cyberaggressors face up to their responsibilities.

But here, Al Olama does not no reference to cyberbullying, hacking or anything of the sort. For him, even purely symbolic actions without concrete consequences in the real world, such as the fact of kill someone else’s avatar in the metaverseshould be considered a crime in its own right.

100% virtual crime, very real psychological impact?

If I text you on WhatsApp, it’s a text, right? It might scare you, but in a way, it won’t create memories that will generate post-traumatic stress disorder”, explains the minister quoted by CNBC. “But in a world as realistic as the one we’re talking about with the metaverse, if I murder you… that leads to a certain extreme that has to be fought aggressively, because everyone agrees that some things are unacceptable.”.

Definitely, the minister managed to integrate many contentious points in this relatively short projection. Let’s ignore the fact that a simple text message can also be infinitely traumatic depending on its content, and let’s try to explore the root of the problem.

In essence, he considers that the moral principles and codes of conduct of real life should apply in all circumstances, even in a virtual world which ultimately constitutes only an extension of reality. So should I report my next door neighbor who ran me over on GTA Online just last night? Should we judge all Pokémon players for trafficking in protected animal species?

Digital violence, the human already knows it very well. © Rockstar

Humans are already half-digital and know how to make sense of things

Even if this Emirati minister is unlikely to endorse the content of Rockstar’s title, or that he admits the existence of Nintendo’s bestiary, his reasoning seems to be strictly limited to the metaverse for its ultra-realistic and immersive side. . It is indisputable that when it arrives, the first “real” more or less photorealistic metaverse will be able to upset our habits and our relationship with technology. But from there to consider the murder of a virtual avatar as a real homicide…?

It just seems absurd. First, remember that Meta and other companies working on a similar system do so for commercial purposes. By definition, these brands must absolutely remain all-public; it is therefore inconceivable that they actively decide to transform their future virtual universe into a real GTA Online server on a planetary scale. And even if it were, our digital world is now mature enough to allow the public to make sense of it.

Today’s humans are constantly immersed in a virtual world. Sure, the metaverse promises to take this concept to the next level, but most of the codes will ultimately remain the same. However, players have already been killing each other through avatars interposed for many years in joy and joy, and in the majority of cases, this gesture is in no way interpreted as an aggression in the real world!

The emergence of the first “true metaverse” is likely to have regulatory and legislative implications. © Conny Schneider – Unsplash

A virtual revolution that will not stop at cyberspace

But on the other hand, this does not mean that all of the Minister’s reasoning is to be dismissed out of hand. Because his remarks at least had the merit of illustrating a very important point: the development of this digital parallel universe will force legislators to adapt, and it is better to think about it today before ending up in a huge societal, cultural and regulatory cul-de-sac.

We can already wonder who will make the law in this, or rather these metaverses since Meta is not the only one working on it. Business will obviously have a say, but what about governments and regulators? Will they be able to enforce the laws in force in their own jurisdictions? Legally speaking, should these spaces be considered as extensions of real life at all levels? Could different answers to these questions generate friction between certain institutions, such as between American Big Tech and the European Union, for example?

So many questions that we are still quite unable to answer for the moment, and yet these are only the tip of a huge digital iceberg. Suffice to say that even if the metaverse itself does not interest you as such, it will be interesting to follow its development, because it will probably lead to a profound transformation of the digital landscape as we know it, with all that this implies for the life of humans of flesh and blood.

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Metavers: what if killing an avatar becomes a real crime?


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