Student Team Reflections on the The individual, identity and ethics & the Rise of Simulated Spaces

Digital Society admin
6 min readApr 17

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This podcast is part of the UCIL Digital Society course from the University of Manchester running in 2022/23 semester 2. The stories it relates to are hosted on Medium and concern the The individual, identity and ethics and the Rise of Simulated Spaces.

ST 1: Hello everyone! I’m Szaffi from the Library Student Team, and I’m here with my colleague Durian. In this episode we’re going to focus on two topics. One of them explores the ethical implications of our online behaviour, while the other one refers to an interesting discussion about simulated space. Thank you for all your contributions in the discussion boards, we really enjoyed reading your comments! Let’s make a start and discuss about ethics online. Durian how do you think we could define what ethics are?

ST 2: In the introduction of the course ethics were defined as “moral principles that govern a person’s behaviour”. I think this is a good starting point to define such a complex concept. I would add that these principles can be influenced by various dimensions of our lives such as religious beliefs, cultural context, and education. However, one thing is certain, we use some sort of moral guidance to model our behaviour in society.

ST 1: I agree! It’s very difficult to define morality, but we can all try to unpack it by considering our own experiences and backgrounds that might influence the way we think about it. Also, I think the discussion about ethics becomes even more complicated when we think of the digital world. Can we apply our offline moral principles to the online world? In the discussion boards, six of our students answered ‘Yes, we can apply the same principles’, while four students said that they don’t think we can just translate our offline morality into the digital world. What are your thoughts on this?

ST 2: I think it’s difficult to provide a ‘yes or no’ answer. Some of the students highlighted how certain issues that we encounter in our offline reality are intensified and even more difficult to handle in the digital world. For instance, students discussed about the effects of cyber-bullies who are protected by anonymity and find it easier to disconnect from the realities of their behaviour because they can’t physically interact with their victims.

ST1: That’s a good point. Also, I’ve read that other students were referring to how easy our personal data can be stolen. One example that stuck with me was the instance of a student who had their image stolen by another digital user who eventually uploaded it on a dating app. These situations are quite common and sometimes difficult to track in order to hold the person involved accountable.

ST2: You mentioned accountability. I think this is an important aspect of the digital world and sometimes it can be difficult to define the lines on which past actions, for example, are permissible or forgivable. With our online activity holding permanent residence on the internet, we can often be haunted by our past online selves. Do you think that we should be hold accountable for our past online activities if these prove to be offensive?

ST1: Hmmm, it’s a tricky question! Eight of the students on the discussion board agreed that our childhood behaviour should be assessed differently from our current one, while two other students were unsure on how to answer this question. I think accountability should be balanced with a certain level of understanding. If a person shows signs of growth and maturity, their past behaviour should be viewed from a current perspective on how the behaviour of that person has evolved.

ST2: I agree with your point. I also think that accountability should be balanced with understanding sometimes. But this poses another question, when is a person ‘old enough’ to be held accountable for their views and behaviour?

ST1: One of the students who contributed to the discussion board suggested that the age of 18 can be a good break between our childhood and adulthood. This implies that once you turn 18 you should be more responsible about your behaviour and held accountable if it becomes offensive. However, I think these suggestions can remain open to question.

ST2: We’re now going to move on to our second topic, The Rise of Simulated Spaces. In this topic, we have considered the potential of digitisation and how it allows us to become more than human by looking at developments made by companies such as Meta.

ST1: We started by looking into the development of the metaverse and opportunities that simulations can provide in areas such as healthcare. This also included advancements in augmented and virtual reality technologies in the field of ‘spatial computing’.

ST2: We asked you to answer two polls in this section and your responses were really interesting. Firstly, we asked you to reflect on how you currently feel about your social media use. This poll had a mixed set of results which shows the complex relationship we all have with social media! A slight majority of you said that you were either neutral or unsure on how you felt, which I think reflects how many of us recognise that social media comes with both benefits and problems.

ST1: I agree with that! Our next question was, do you currently use augmented or virtual reality in any aspect of your life? Your responses to this were a lot more one-sided. Two-thirds of responses said that they don’t currently use these technologies. This shows that these technologies haven’t yet become embedded in our daily lives, but it will be interesting to see future developments and if their usage increases!

ST2: It definitely will. However, there are some potential problems with the metaverse that could stop this from happening, which leads us into our next section. Here, we asked you to think about the potential darker side of the metaverse. A big problem here is the types and amount of data that could be collected in the metaverse and the security risks that this could create.

ST1: I found this section really interesting, as this data could definitely provide benefits such as helping research studies be more accurate. But there were also a lot of issues raised about privacy and how your data is used and sold that might outweigh these benefits. I know I wouldn’t feel comfortable with my data being stored in a way that left me at risk of being a fraud victim.

ST2: Neither would I! I think this shows us that many people would not be happy to accept these technologies without reassurance that these problems could be fixed. This was a question that we posed to you when we asked if we should accept these novel technologies without democratic debate.

ST1: I disagree with this statement, and from your responses it looks like many of you did too. It is clear that you also believe that we need to be critical of these technologies and the ways that they could impact our lives.

ST2: One good point that was raised was that society needs to be aware of the implications of using these technologies before they are widely accepted, so people can make informed decisions about how they use them. This is especially true due to the impact these technologies can have on our digital footprint and privacy.

ST1: Another potential ethical issue that we have considered is the possibility for virtual bodies to take over personal identities. We asked you whether you thought this was possible, and one response said they didn’t think that it was as the virtual body would not have its own independent thoughts.

ST2: That is a good point! I also think the point that Sara raised is really interesting. Whilst we are still not at the point where technologies can understand or develop human consciousness, it is possible for digital bodies to seem very real to us. It is definitely easy to be tricked into believing something is real due to the advancements in deep fake technologies and software such as ChatGPT.

ST1: This topic has shown that there are many potential ethical issues that come with these technologies, especially relating to the connection between physical and virtual bodies. It was also interesting to think about how we could use these technologies to enhance our own abilities, and whether we would want to do this.

ST2: Thanks for your comments this week, we really enjoyed reading them. We hope that this summary has been helpful. Please feel free to keep adding comments if you have more ideas!

ST1: Our next topic after the Easter break will be Smart Cities. We will look at the impact of digital technologies on the environments where we live, work and play. We can’t wait to hear your thoughts on this!

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Digital Society admin