Workshop on Symbiotic Society with Avatars :

Social Acceptance, Ethics, and Technologies (SSA)

31st IEEE International Conference on Robot and Human Interactive Communication (RO-MAN 2022), Napoli, Italy,

September 2, 2022.

Statement of objectives

Although COVID-19 pandemic caused many problems in the society, new technologies emerged to overcome the difficulties. One aspect is communication. Using a telepresence robot, people can exist in a distant physical space and meet other people there. In a metaverse environment, the user is represented as a virtual character. In both cases, the user is represented as an avatar (an alter ego), and communicates with other people in a given space by controlling the avatar remotely. Moreover, avatars can be semi-autonomous by incorporating artificial intelligence technologies. By using such avatars, people can extend their physical, cognitive, and perceptual capabilities. People are able to be free from the constraints of time and space. Therefore, avatar technologies may impact human life, and it is indispensable to discuss what technologies are necessary to realize avatars that are well accepted in the society as well as ethical and legal issues, while envisioning a future symbiotic society in which people communicate with other people’s avatars.

One important ethical question is how the use of avatars affects the formation of the user's identity, the way he or she communicates with others, and thus the construction of social capital. Another question is what kind or degree of moral status should be given to avatars (in each of their teleoperated, autonomous, or hybrid forms). To answer these questions, we must take into account the technical details of avatars, the social and economic environment in which they are used, and how they affect the cognitions, emotions, and behaviors of the avatar operator and those with whom he or she interacts. These are not questions that ethicists alone can think about and discuss and come up with useful answers. Therefore, in order to properly consider the ethics of avatars, we must also consider the platforms and methods for thinking about, discussing, and implementing the ethics of avatars.

We need to also investigate the “moral” aspect in human-avatar communication. While avatar robots would enable remote operators to move around the environment, and communicate with people there, people in communication will not see each others’ “real” face, which would sometimes result in lack of morality in their communication. We know that in human-robot interaction, there are some moral problems like “robot abuse”. Similar phenomena would occur in either way (i.e. tele-operators would maluse their avatar robot, and interacting people would abuse the avatar robot).

This workshop aims to provide an opportunity that researchers in communication robot, avatar, psychology, ethics, and law come together and discuss the issues described above to realize a symbiotic society with avatars.


Half day (morning session) workshop in hybrid format


Yukiko Nakano (Seikei University, Japan) contact: y.nakano[at]

Takayuki Kanda (Kyoto University, Japan)

Minao Kukita (Nagoya University, Japan)

Hiroshi Ishiguro (Osaka University & The Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute (ATR), Japan)

Call for Position Papers

We will elicit position papers that propose ideas, questions, and research results, which contribute to fruitful discussions at the workshop. The position papers will be presented as a poster. Paper length should be 1 page (excluding reference) in the RO-MAN 2022 format: RO-MAN Papers Templates. Please submit your paper to the EasyChair submission site: Paper submission.

List of topics

The list of topics is as follows (but not limited to).

Social relationship and communication

  • Issues on accepting a symbiotic society with social robots

  • Social relationship in human-robot communication

  • Dependence on avatars in social communication

  • Social rapport in human-robot communication

  • User identity in communicating through telepresence robots (gender, age, personality, culture)

Ethical and moral issues

  • Moral aspects in human-robot communication

  • Lack of morality in human-robot communication (robot abuse)

  • Robot mal-use by tele-operators (abuse, harassment, etc.)

  • Privacy in human-robot communication

  • Cognitive, emotional, and behavioral impacts on users interacting with social robots

Technologies towards socially well-accepted avatars

  • Technologies for reducing and preventing robot mal-use

  • Moral computing

  • Developing social robots with ethical consciousness

  • Technologies for protecting user privacy in using social robots

  • Platforms and specifications for socially well-accepted robots

Important Dates

Paper submission: July 17, 2022

Notification of acceptance: July 27, 2022

Camera ready: August 8, 2022

Workshop: September 2, 2022


Professor Mark Coeckelbergh (University of Vienna, Austria)

Title: Is it wrong to abuse an avatar in the metaverse? On the moral status of avatars and robots

Abstract: “It’s the metaverse – I’ll do what I want”. The use of avatars in the metaverse, 3D computer games, and other virtual worlds and online environments is likely to increase. This raises questions regarding potential harm to avatars, for example in the form of abuse such as sexual assault and bullying. This talk offers arguments for why abuse of avatars is wrong based on direct and indirect moral status theory and theory about virtual worlds, and compares the situation of avatars with those of robots. Particular attention is given to the embodiment function of avatars via VR headset technology and views of the ontology of metaverse that suggest that what happens in these “virtual” environments is very real. It is concluded that whereas abuse of robots in physical environments can best be problematized by means of indirect moral status theory (in particular virtue theory), avatars in the metaverse deserve additional moral consideration based on the direct moral status of those they (re)present and perform. Given these arguments and knowing that big tech companies such as Meta reach millions of people with their new technologies, including children and (other) vulnerable people, abuse issues in the context of interactions between avatars therefore need urgent moral attention from metaverse designers and developers, companies, policy makers, and other stakeholders, and may soon become a political problem not only companies can and should deal with.

Professor Vanessa Evers (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore)

Title: Deploying Robots in everyday Society: An overview from 2005 to now

In futurist research, we envision new robotic possibilities and think through the consequences of these (im)possible innovations for people and their impact on society. In imagining a future symbiotic society with robots and people and in developing Social AI and Social robotics solutions, we have been imagining what future robotic services may look like, how to innovate technologically to make the solution come true and study the social and societal consequences. In this presentation I will discuss projects in which we created robotic technology, how we went about designing integrated AI driven robots that were envisioned to operate in everyday educational environments and how we studied the impact of these controversial technologies on people’s lives. Also, there will be a lot of interesting videos to watch as we learned to make robots for people through trial and error.

Workshop Program