Superdeep #7: “Discrimination & the Metaverse”
Presented by Wei Yi
Reported by Jiahe Yang (class of 2025)
On Mar 4th, 2022, Professor Nathan Hauthaler invited Wei Yi to present the seventh Superdeep workshop. Wei Yi, a senior majoring in data science, gave the presentation about his signature work project themed “Discrimination & the Metaverse”.
The introduction of this workshop states, “both real and virtual worlds are Superdeep.” Bias and discrimination could take place in the virtual space apart from the real world. As the opposite of egalitarianism, there is no uniform definition of discrimination. According to Yi, discrimination is a differentiated treatment toward different cohorts due to the prejudice derived from stereotypes and subjective hatred and will incurs losses to the victims. He pointed out that the extent of losses ranges widely. On the scale of severity, he listed verbal aggression, physical abuse, social exclusion, even genocide as manifestations of discrimination. Thus, the losses could also vary on a different scale, from heartbreaking to life-threatening.
The motivation behind discrimination can be roughly divided into personal level and social level, both are theoretically based. For example, on the personal level there are Psychoanalytic Theory, Terror Management Theory, and Attribution Theory; on the social level there are Authoritarian Personality Approach, Social Dominance Theory, Scapegoating Theories, and Social Identity Theory. In general, these theories have a similar pattern – they are based on psychological factors such as seeking benefits and preventing harm. By briefly listing these theories, Yi tended to introduce the current literature on revealing the deep reasons behind discrimination. Yi raised his summarization that the motivations are rooted from the mentality of seeking benefits and preventing harm to the people who discriminates.
Entering a new era of technology brings us to an important proposition: Will technology help reduce discrimination? To address this issue, Wei Yi started by giving a brief introduction by defining and discussing information technology (IT) and data discrimination. Yi then further discusses two other forms of discrimination in the virtual space, which are algorithmic discrimination and statistical discrimination. The former is a systematic and reiterative process of dividing social groups then create unfair outcomes, and it’s powered by artificial intelligence; the latter is a dividing behavior of people based on their economic status. It is very easy to get discriminated against virtually. Today, discrimination is prevalent in all kinds of popular Apps. Wei Yi provided four case studies to demonstrate that data discrimination is common nowadays, and it includes but not limited to price discrimination, sexism, racism, and ageism. Big data provide different kinds of information for the different target audience. Wei Yi gave his conclusion on this topic: On the one hand, IT helps with solving the problems, on the other hand, it exacerbates some problems and brings new ones.
So, what is data discrimination going to look like in the future? ‘Metaverse’ is a concept that is gaining more and more attention these days. As a virtualized social space, discrimination happens often in the Metaverse. Though technology may amplify discrimination, there are proper solutions. For instance, Wei Yi thinks individuals should equip themselves with higher protective awareness, safeguard rights and be cautious about personal privacy. Enterprise should keep ethical and have more review sessions on better protecting users’ privacy in case the leaked information will cause a new round of discrimination. And the government should design and promulgate laws and regulations to better guide benign development of the virtual space.
In conclusion, discrimination is an important social problem, which is constantly evolving with the development of civilization. In the era of information, technology can help reduce discrimination, but it also risks amplifying and creating new discrimination. It is important to plan ahead and take precautions to prevent the social problems brought about by emerging technologies before it occurs and minimize the causes of massive disruption to the society.