Responsible XR: Building an extended reality foundation we can trust

Summary

  • As extended reality becomes more widely used by consumers and businesses, there’s a greater focus on risks related to the technology’s development and use.
  • PwC’s Responsible XR framework covers nine principles that can help companies develop ethical and risk-mitigated solutions. 
  • An XR strategy starts with a responsible approach and identifying potential opportunities and impacts.

Extended reality (XR) technology — an umbrella term for augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR) and virtual reality (VR) — could deliver an estimated $1.5 trillion boost to the global economy by 2030, according to an economic impact assessment conducted by PwC economists.

As XR, which combines virtual and real worlds to create fully immersive experiences, continues to evolve, consumers and regulators are asking questions and discussing risks that business and technology leaders should take seriously.

With this in mind, PwC developed a first-of-its-kind Responsible XR framework, which leverages industry experience and convergence with our existing Responsible AI framework, in order to:

  1. Provide guiding principles that can help your company develop ethical and risk-mitigated XR solutions that put the user first.
  2. Help your company adapt those principles and develop a strategy that’s tied to ethics and emerging policy, regulation and industry standards.
  3. Highlight governance and controls that can operationalize those principles and strategies throughout the XR development life cycle.
  4. Analyze whether XR makes sense for your company and then help you assemble a diverse team of professionals, enhance data policies and controls, and establish procedures for how to procure and develop XR.

Principles of Responsible XR

A responsible XR framework should rely on principles that augment corporate ethics and other values that stakeholders can use throughout development of this technology. These principles can serve as building blocks to produce an organized, repeatable set of processes and procedures that can help your organization effectively manage the risks of doing business in XR.

PwC’s Responsible XR framework focuses on nine principles:

Accessibility: XR experiences should enable assistive and accessible experiences for users. To help users with vision impairment, for example, companies should consider the size, shape, contrast, color and placement of elements within the various experiences. To accommodate those with hearing impairments, designs should consider the volume, pitch, clarity and location of sounds. Additional considerations for mobility, cognitive load and dexterity can also improve the accessibility and usability of XR solutions for broader audiences.

Privacy: Developing systems that help mitigate risks and safeguard data privacy is a focal point of a responsible approach — especially establishing safeguards in the design controls. With XR technology, some experiences rely on higher-risk personal information, such as biometrics. Limiting the amount of data collected by determining the minimum that’s required can help curb these risks, but companies also should adhere to existing and evolving data privacy standards and regulations.

Safety: Preventing physical and mental harm should be a key objective of any XR solution’s design and testing. This should include adhering to hardware manufacturer guidelines in design — adding warnings for how experiences may adversely affect people with health concerns — and giving users the ability to make thoughtful choices of their experience in multi-user settings.

Transparency: In addition to traditional aspects of transparency — such as providing users with information about how XR collects and uses data — XR technology should give users clarity about what they are experiencing. This could, for example, let users know whether they’re interacting with humans or AI-generated avatars during the experience. It could also be transparent about any advertising or other messages that are designed to influence user behavior.

Fairness: To build inclusive XR solutions and mitigate bias, the design should consider every potential user. Deploying an inclusive design methodology that encompasses the range of human diversity — ability, language, culture, gender, age and other forms of identity — can help create a diverse, equitable and inclusive solution.

Security: As XR technology opens up new, decentralized digital worlds and applications, it also creates new opportunities for malicious actors. Therefore, traditional cybersecurity measures should be updated and enhanced in order to help safeguard privacy and handle XR’s broader internal and external entry points.

Performance: Performance is especially important in XR because low-performance rates may cause negative effects such as user disorientation, eye strain, headaches and nausea. Companies should perform frequent user testing and continuously monitor performance metrics throughout the tech’s development and deployment lifecycle to help meet higher performance standards.

Interoperability: While current XR technologies provide for isolated experiences — where assets and value are not interoperable or interchangeable — they are rapidly evolving. Much like when companies design for consistency in web, mobile and app experiences, their XR solutions should aim for a seamless experience across platforms, modalities and environments — one that can be translated into evolving technology requirements and standards.

Sustainability: As companies strive to strike a balance between economic growth, environmental care and societal well-being, they may turn to XR to provide a sustainable solution. When defining XR-related strategies, companies should aspire to reduce their carbon footprint and corporate travel, while also considering environmental, social and governance (ESG) benefits.

The principles in the PwC Responsible XR Framework offer a holistic approach to ethical development of XR initiatives, but companies that operationalize these principles in practice may need to consider trade-offs. At each stage in the development lifecycle, companies should decide the applicability of each principle within the context of their business and the nature of the project.

Therefore, certain trade-offs should be weighed, and compromise may be more acceptable for some principles. However, whenever possible, companies should prioritize the principles that can have the highest impact on user security and well-being.

Consider these four steps to enable Responsible XR

The following four steps can help set up businesses for responsible XR solutions:

  1. Identify XR opportunities and impacts. Whether you’re just starting to explore XR or you’re a seasoned XR pro, the first step in driving responsible XR is understanding how XR fits into a differentiated ecosystem. Identify areas in which XR can augment existing experiences and create new opportunities, and think through any new impacts this technology could introduce. XR is more experiential than other technologies, so your company should thoroughly document how the technology would be used and how it could impact the expected users.
  2. Assemble a diverse, cross-functional team. Developing inclusive and accessible XR experiences requires diverse perspectives — from design through deployment. Not only should your company include people of diverse backgrounds with respect to ability, ethnicity, gender and other social identifiers, but it should include a diverse set of skills from the business and technical disciplines throughout your organization.
  3. Enhance existing data privacy and protection policies and controls. XR relies heavily on data types, such as biometrics, location tracking and other personal identifiers, which introduce additional data risks. This can add complexity to data security and storage — complexity that existing data privacy and protection policies and controls may not address. Assess the data types and sources that your XR solutions will consume and collect, and then update your data and risk policies and controls accordingly.
  4. Establish mechanisms to aid XR procurement and development. XR is an emerging technology, with new hardware and software considerations for which organizations likely do not have processes in place. By establishing policies and operating procedures for XR procurement and development that complement existing processes, you can help enable asking the right questions and pursuing the right solutions. These policies and procedures should include determining when and how to build or buy an XR solution; identifying and mitigating particular risk factors; defining roles and responsibilities within the operating model; and fostering transparency and accountability throughout the XR life cycle.

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Scott Likens

PwC’s Global Artificial Intelligence Leader and US Trust Technology Leader, PwC US

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Roberto Hernandez

Global Metaverse Leader and Customer Strategy & Experience Leader, PwC US

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Joseph Harrington

Principal, PwC US

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Emmanuelle Rivet

Vice Chair, US TMT & Global Technology Leader, PwC US

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