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Navigating the Ethics of Digital Humans

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With the emergence of any new technology, ethical challenges arise. The rise of digital humans is no exception.  

Gartner predicts that by 2035, the digital human economy will become a $125-billion market that will continue to grow further. When deployed at such scale, the digital human economy is here to dramatically change how businesses (and our society) operate. 

As these AI-driven avatars integrate into every corner of our lives—from customer service and healthcare to education and entertainment—the ethical stakes are higher than ever. For instance, in customer service, digital humans can handle inquiries with a level of empathy previously seen only in human interactions, dramatically enhancing user engagement and satisfaction. Banks use them in their ATMs to guide users through transactions and provide real-time answers to questions. In healthcare, they assist in patient management and therapy, providing consistent, 24/7 support and reducing the strain on human workers. Educational platforms use them to create personalized learning environments, while the entertainment industry deploys them to offer new forms of interactive storytelling.  

It is therefore crucial to address the ethical considerations inherent in their development and deployment. Digital humans offer tremendous potential to improve human experiences, but this potential must be balanced with a commitment to ethical principles that prioritize transparency, privacy, respect, inclusivity, and collaboration. 

The ethical principles of digital humans 

1. Set transparency boundaries

Expanding on the principle of transparency in digital humans, it is important to recognize that this goes beyond just disclosure that one is interacting with an AI. The integration of digital humans into business and social contexts requires a clear distinction between human and AI interactions to maintain trust. This approach not only helps in creating a seamless user experience but also reinforces the ethical boundary by ensuring users are never misled about the nature of their interaction—whether they are dealing with a human or an AI. 

Moreover, the development and deployment of digital humans must adhere to principles that prevent misuse, such as using these entities to spread misinformation or engage in deceitful practices. By embedding ethical considerations into the core design and operational processes, businesses can leverage digital humans to enhance customer confidence and engagement. The need for transparency is also crucial in building long-term trust, a factor that cannot be overstated nowadays where skepticism towards digital interactions is often high due to past breaches and misuses of technology.  

2. Respect user privacy

To maintain user privacy, several measures are essential. Firstly, ensuring that digital humans do not capture or store personal data without explicit permission is fundamental. Additionally, they must only utilize the amount of personal data necessary for their function, maintaining a strict adherence to the principle of data minimization.  

Creators of Digital Humans must emphasize the importance of clear and transparent data use policies. Their privacy policies detail the types of data collected and the purpose behind their collection, ensuring users are fully informed. Furthermore, robust technical and organizational security measures are implemented to safeguard personal data against unauthorized access, destruction, or alteration. 

This approach not only aligns with global data protection regulations, such as the GDPR, but also builds a foundation of trust by respecting user privacy and emphasizing transparency in every interaction with digital humans. Such practices are not merely about adhering to legal requirements but are integral to creating a trustworthy digital environment where users feel safe and valued. 

3. Design to enhance lives

The ethical use of AI in creating digital humans plays a pivotal role in advancing societal benefits and enhancing individual lives across various domains such as healthcare, workplace interactions, and personal communications. This ethical framework focuses on promoting beneficial practices while actively avoiding negative actions, such as the dissemination of misinformation or engaging in unlawful activities. It is imperative that digital humans foster interactions that are not only positive but also embody respect, privacy, and inclusivity. This holistic strategy ensures responsible usage of these technologies, emphasizing their potential to improve human experiences significantly. By adhering to these principles, digital human design aligns with broader industry standards on AI ethics, underscoring the commitment to developing AI interactions that are supportive, reliable, and trustworthy, thus enhancing the quality of human life. 

4. Promote respectful interaction

Promoting respectful interaction in the design of digital humans is crucial for achieving inclusivity and ethical engagement. It involves creating AI that can understand and adapt to diverse cultural and individual needs, which ensures that all interactions are respectful and considerate of users’ backgrounds and abilities. Digital humans should also be designed to detect and manage disrespectful or harmful behavior effectively. This could involve programming them to disengage or redirect conversations when abusive language is detected, thereby establishing a standard for respectful interaction in digital spaces. Furthermore, it's essential that these digital avatars are designed to be accessible to people with various disabilities, promoting equitable technology access. By ensuring that digital humans are versatile and respectful, designers can create more inclusive digital environments that reflect and enhance societal values. 

5. Embrace diversity and collaboration

Embracing diversity and collaboration in the creation of digital humans significantly enhances their relevance and effectiveness across varied user demographics. By integrating diverse perspectives throughout the development process, designers can address a wide spectrum of needs, thereby mitigating biases and preventing exclusion. A co-design approach is pivotal, as it ensures that digital humans are not only reflective of diverse communities but also embody respect and inclusivity. This methodological inclusiveness is vital for the success and acceptance of digital humans, allowing them to resonate deeply with users from different backgrounds and effectively serve their intended roles. This approach helps ensure that digital humans can function effectively and empathetically in a variety of social, cultural, and professional contexts. 

Conclusion 

In conclusion, as digital humans continue to revolutionize industries and redefine human-AI interactions, prioritizing ethical considerations is essential. Transparency, data privacy, positive impact, respect, inclusivity, and collaborative design are foundational principles that guide the responsible development and deployment of digital humans. By adhering to these principles, we can ensure that digital humans enrich human experiences while upholding ethical standards and respecting individuals' rights and dignity. 

Tomáš Malovec is the CEO and co-founder at Born Digital, a company specializing in the Conversational AI and digital human technology space. With 20+ years of experience in delivery management and digital transformation under his belt, he has built a strong track record from global technology companies such as IBM, CGI, and Hewlett Packard.