Why do we Need an XR Guild?

Towards Ethical, Responsible and Trustworthy Spatial Computing

There is diversity of ideas about what the Metaverse is or will someday become, whether AR or VR will lead consumer experiences, and how much of our lives should be digital vs. analog. But there’s one thing professionals in XR can all agree on: we want to build things that customers value, that clearly help them and never harm them.

The challenge in practice is determining what that means. The easy path is to generally ignore deep questions, racing headlong into the unknown, and then make excuses for our failures.

“How could we know that kids would wind up using our cheaper headsets not designed for them?”

“How could we know that our ML is biased against minorities?”

There’s so much other work to do as well. “So we’ll fix it after we hit the problems”— some still say — “it’s too expensive to worry about things that are only theoretical.”

It turns out, the process of building the best products for customers is nearly identical to the process of building them to be most Ethical, Responsible, and Trustworthy, because these are all part of what makes products good. Consumers aren’t dumb. Despite marketing to the contrary, we can figure out when our products aren’t working for us. If companies take the shortcuts in product development, it will be painfully obvious.

This problem involves all of us makers and professionals in XR. It can’t be outsourced to a few experts. And if history serves as a guide, employees who work on crappy products tend to not have jobs after a while. You don’t see the CEOs losing their jobs, though. If they say “we don’t have time or the budget” to get it right the first time, then it’s on us, the people who will get hit first, to prove why it’s cheaper to take the time to get it right.

Enter the XR Guild. We’re a collection of professionals in XR, Metaverse, and Spatial Computing who have been around the block a few hundred times. Our mission statement is simple:

The XR Guild provides the resources, organization, mentorship, and a common set of ethical principles to professional members to help us all achieve the most ethical outcomes for our products and services — benefiting consumers, companies, and makers alike.

There are certainly other organizations working in the field of XR across 1) Public Outreach, 2) Policy & Regulation and 3) Open Standards, each working toward business and/or consumer goals. We add a strong fourth and bottom-up track.

The XR Guild includes Designers, Developers, Artists, Researchers, PMs, Producers, Writers, Directors, Creatives, Lawyers, even CEOs. Some of us have over 30 years in the field. The XR Guild is not a labor union, but we all agree to a common set of ethical principles up front. Like the skilled trade Guilds of the past, we can teach professionals to spend more time on ethics in their everyday product decisions.

Ideally, someday, these tools would be taught early in school, with a professional oath echoing the Hippocratic oath for medicine. We need to hold ourselves to a higher standard if we want to succeed, and speak up when needed to prune the weeds that can kill any budding garden.

So what does it mean to be Ethical, Responsible and Trustworthy? Aren’t those all just the same thing anyway?

Here’s an early take at a process we’re learning how to teach:

  1. Ethical. It’s important to think through your values, state them clearly as design principles, and then really commit to them. The goal here is to be specific and inclusive enough in your principles that when you later encounter the really hard problems, your ethical principles can serve as guides. You will hopefully begin with past experience that tells you what to avoid. But if not, the Guild provides a set of ethical principles that are time-tested for best results.
  2. Responsible. Once you have your principles, do you stick to them? Or do you make arbitrary decisions based on pure expedience or lack of knowledge? Responsibility is about owning up to our own choices and not passing the buck.
  3. Trustworthy. Even if we’re Ethical and Responsible, we still need to evaluate how we did in the end. Being Trustworthy means taking the feedback, good and bad, and factoring that back into the process. Did we get some principles wrong? Hopefully not, but let’s be honest and fix them. Did we leave some people out of the solution? Let’s own up and address it. Trust comes from customers seeing us take responsibility for making the most ethical choices. It’s their window into our process, in reverse. So you can see how Trust depends on the other two phases.
The virtuous cycle from Ethical to Responsible to Trustworthy and back to Ethical

These three steps, collectively ERT, form a repeatable cycle from early planning to development, go-to-market, and evaluation from the field, feeding back to next steps and improvements. The earlier in the cycle we get it right, the better the wheel spins. But reality always wins.

Members of the XR Guild are getting good at presenting this kind of information in a more straightforward and accessible way than the traditional white-papers and manifestos. We’ve begun recording light-weight podcasts aimed at busy professionals to help teach what we know. We continue to host roundtables of 4–8 people at a time, around the US and eventually the world, to help everyone listen and be heard. And we’re ramping up our 1:1 mentoring system to connect those with more experience to those who need it.

None of this comes cheap. We are all-volunteer for now. But getting people to spend their time and energy on anything requires a certain level of polish and sophistication in our facilities and infrastructure. Producing podcasts takes expert editing. Hosting these roundtables takes money as well. Keeping the Guild democratically run requires voting systems. We keep building towards the greater goals.

This December, we’re entering our first fundraising drive, trying to raise our first $10k by EOY. If the ideas above resonate with you, we ask you to read our principles and come join the Guild. If you can, please donate to help us grow faster and reach more people to do the most good.

And at the very least, please help us spread the word on social media about something that a relatively small set of people can pro-actively do to help everyone.

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Avi Bar-Zeev

Avi Bar-Zeev

XR Pioneer (30+ years), started/helped projects at Microsoft (HoloLens), Apple, Amazon, Keyhole (Google Earth), Linden Lab (Second Life), Disney (VR), XR Guild