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Ethics in a Virtual World

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Technology has become an integral part of real-life applications. The relationship between ethics and technology, therefore, can be viewed from two perspectives: first, from the perspective of the technology engineer, and second, from the perspective of the user. A plausible way to make the virtual world ethically responsive is the collective responsibility that proposes society has the power to influence but not control behavior in the virtual world. The wide availability and usability of technology today make it necessary to understand ethics not only from the designer’s viewpoint but also from that of the user. Computers and the changes they spawn have only recently entered into the majority of people’s lives. Large supercomputers used by the government and businesses made their debut approximately 60 years ago, and the personal computer began appearing in small businesses and homes as recently as the early 1980s. While the forerunner of the Internet was created almost 40 years ago, widespread use of the Internet and the conception of the World Wide Web occurred during the past fifteen years. The field of computer ethics has been established to tackle the ethical problems arising from new technologies. While accurately foreseeing the direction of such ethical concerns in the future is impossible, some general conjectures can be made on emerging trends.

Moral Responsibilities in a Virtual World

The current technological age is unlike the pre-technological age. Technology appears to bring social change in two ways: first, by creating new opportunities and second, by creating new problems for individuals and society. One of the most common forms of technology is the Internet. Due to globalization, the power of the Internet is used by many people who have assimilated the internet into their typical day. One of the most important aspects of individuals in relation to ethics and technology is the change of morality. It is assumed that both morality and social convention exist in the same domain. Morals are ethics within an individual and social ethics are the conventions of a social perception model. It is the concept of virtual reality that has added a new layer of complexity to ethical issues at an individual and social level.

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Computer Ethics Laws

Legislation is often slow to catch up to the reality of everyday life. Eventually, it does catch up and this will prove true for many of the computer ethics issues we face today. For example, many attempts have already been made in the United States to draft laws increasing personal privacy protection. In addition, laws have been enacted to address pornography, cyberbullying, stalking and virtual abuse (using a false identity on the internet).

Artificial Intelligence and Avatars

The first generation of avatars, also known as a digital representation that looks and talk like ordinary people, has already appeared. Given the rapid advances in high-tech capabilities and artificial intelligence, predicting that avatars in the future will be interchangeable with real human beings is not impossible. This eventuality will pose a wave of ethical quandaries. For example, should computer users necessarily be warned that they are dealing with an avatar and not a human being? Should avatars be barred from imitating certain behaviors? In what ways might avatars be used by some for criminal activities, and how can such behavior be thwarted? These are just a few of the endless ethical questions arising from future progress in artificial intelligence.

Self-Replicating Robots

We already know that robots can be created that, in turn, create other robots. Such self-replication of technology has great potential to get out of hand, and it thus presents an abundance of ethical concerns. For instance, have we created a technology that might someday replace, dominate, or even remove human beings? How can we know? These are some of the ethical questions concerning robots that will be debated in the future.

Narrowing the Digital Divide

While the digital divide between industrialized countries is narrowing, the gap between developed and underdeveloped nations is still extensive. The debate over how this gap is to be limited will continue. Should poverty-stricken nations be urged to focus on gaining basic needs, such as sufficient electricity, communications, and healthcare foundations, or should they be encouraged to use available resources to develop digital technologies in order to “catch up” with developed nations? Will computer technologies truly benefit less technologically advanced societies and, if so, how? What role should industrialized nations play in providing and supervising the distribution of such technology?

Governmental Control of Internet Content

Many people today are worried about some of the content accessible on the Internet. Children and vulnerable adults are particularly at risk. Some governments, concerned about losing control over what information their citizens can access, have already placed severe limitations on Internet access and content. The question of whether the government should govern Internet content remains a topic of animated debate. The truth is that even if government controls of some type are imposed, rapid changes in technology will probably allow their circumvention. In the future, the questions of what should be done to regulate intolerable Internet content and who should assume such control will continue to be widely debated.


To conclude, virtual ethics are extremely dependent on society to shape, maintain and pass on ethical laws to the next generation. It can be said that ethical issues associated with a virtual world can only be reduced by integrating collective responsibility.


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