Self-Sovereign Identity — the book, the dystopia

A fish in its ecosystem

First published to the AKASHA blog.


Manning Publications has just published "Self-Sovereign Identity: Decentralized digital identity and verifiable credentials".

Cover of the SSI book

ISBN-13: 978-1617296598 / ISBN-10: 1617296597

Congratulations to the co-editors, Alex Preukschat and Drummond Reed, for getting 24 chapters, 5 appendices, and a further 11 online-only chapters out the door. No mean feat. My copy will drop on the doormat any day now.

For the uninitiated, here's a link to the Wikipedia entry for self-sovereign identity (SSI), although it doesn't yet reflect the caution recorded in the Internet Policy Review glossary.

Of the book's 35 chapters, 34 explain the technologies and motivations and celebrate SSI's application. Here is a book written almost entirely by authors with skin in the SSI game, both reputational and financial, dedicated to making sure you understand why SSI was intended to be a good thing, why exactly it is in fact a good thing, and how it will be awesome in its real-world application.

With my AKASHA Research hat firmly donned and our purpose and values front of mind, I got to write the other chapter, the only dissenting chapter. It's one of those chapters relegated from the main book, but it is available online to all purchasers. It's the one titled ...

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Two Concepts of Liberty and Infinite Permutations of Moderating

landscape

First published to the Ethereum World blog.


Our first blog post on the myths and challenges of social network moderating and the direction we're heading in for decentralized social networking elicited some agreeable feedback but also this response:

“I don't agree with your views about moderation. We're building blockchains for freedom.”

Have you ever had that feeling where your communication simply fell flat despite your sincere best efforts?! 😞 Where your carefully constructed words didn’t appear to make the slightest dint?! Sure you have, you’re human too.

Similarly, we've all conveyed abrupt disagreement. This is the natural to-and-fro of conversation, and it demands mutual respect and enthusiasm for the potential benefits of mutual understanding.

How then should I respond to my responder? The response was private communication, so let’s call him Bob. I find myself asking ...

What exactly does Bob mean by “freedom”?

In the earlier post I write that AKASHA celebrates freedom of speech and freedom of attention equally. And I also noted our longing for freedom from the crèches of centralized social networks. But Bob is “building blockchains for freedom” and appears to consider this different from rather than aligned with our direction.

Can I find an explanation for this and reconcile perceived differences? 🤝

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Towards a shared understanding of ‘digital identity’ — reflecting on conversations with Doc Searls and Drummond Reed

water ripples

First published to the generative identity website.


No two people can share an exact understanding of anything deep and meaningful simply because we each have different contexts. Conversation relies upon and can never wholly substitute for context. Nevertheless, we can work to grow a shared understanding through conversation, and the relationship between conversationalists evolves in the process.

The relationship is immanent in such informational exchange[1].

On one level, the opening paragraph here pertains to this being a blog post about conversations I’ve valued in recent months. But there’s another level given that ‘digital identity’ is our subject. Identity, in what you might call the natural and non-bureaucratic sense, is reciprocally defining and co-constitutive with relationships and information exchange[2].

Identities are immanent in the relationships immanent in information exchange.

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Community moderating — bringing our best

Originally published to the Ethereum World blog.


In light of the Trump ban, far right hate speech, and the plainly weird QAnon conspiracy theories, the world's attention is increasingly focused on the moderation of and by social media platforms.

Our work at AKASHA is founded on the belief that humans are not problems waiting to be solved, but potential waiting to unfold. We are dedicated to that unfolding, and so then to enabling, nurturing, exploring, learning, discussing, self-organizing, creating, and regenerating. And this post explores our thinking and doing when it comes to moderating.

Moderating processes are fascinating and essential. They must encourage and accommodate the complexity of community, and their design can contribute to phenomenal success or dismal failure. And regardless, we're never going to go straight from zero to hero here. We need to work this up together.

We're going to start by defining some common terms and dispelling some common myths. Then we explore some key design considerations and sketch out the feedback mechanisms involved, before presenting the moderating goals as we see them right now. Any and all comments and feedback are most welcome.

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How the separation and unseparation of concerns contribute to SSI’s dystopian promise

By Julian Mora

Originally published by Omidyar Network's Good ID.


As Einstein intimated [1], everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. Current architectures for digital identity — intended to meet some definition of the needs of the complex living system that is human society — are dangerously too simple for the task.

Even self-sovereign identity (SSI), not infrequently held up by its champions as having the requisite complexity by design or claims to that effect, encodes distressing emergent outcomes.

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The deficiency of the “Generative Self-Sovereign Internet”

dark tunnel

First published to the generative identity website.


Phil Windley claims that a technology stack consisting of self-sovereign identity (SSI) and related technologies has all the qualities of generativity. He does so in his latest blog post with reference to Jonathan Zittrain’s 2006 paper The Generative Internet. It’s a well-known and well-respected reference I offered among others in 2019 on using the adjective generative in the context of identity.

Zittrain qualifies technological generativity as a function of its “capacity for leverage across a range of tasks, adaptability to a range of different tasks, ease of mastery, and accessibility.”

Phil recommends the paper in support of his argument.

I recommend the paper to counter Phil’s broader argument and to underline the purpose and value of generative identity.

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Control, agency and complexity — Phil Windley and Philip Sheldrake in conversation

I discussed the topics of sovereignty, agency and complexity on Medium.com with Phil Windley in December 2020 in follow-up to my September 2019 post: Generative identity — beyond self-sovereignty (first published to the AKASHA Foundation blog here). Medium.com isn't a great interface for following such threads, so the conversation was drawn together first on the generative identity website, and now reproduced below.

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But we’ve spent fifteen years working on this

sharp bend road sign

The critique of self-sovereign identity (SSI) has elicited this kind of response a few times now, a reaction pointing at if not acclaiming the huge effort that has gone into getting 'digital identity' this far. I've had it via the ProjectVRM Harvard mailing list, during the session on generative identity at the recent Internet Identity Workshop, and in private exchanges.

This cannot constitute a rational response to a critique but it is an understandable one, as many of my interlocutors recognize; there is a lot of emotional energy invested in such deep and long-term work. Open collaborators such as Doc Searls, Joyce Searls, and Drummond Reed, and it seems to me Phil Windley, appreciate the journey for all its twists and turns, but others — perhaps on visualizing some imminent arrival at some desired destination — respond differently.

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The dystopia of self-sovereign identity (SSI)

triangles

SSI has distressing emergent outcomes — the antithesis of the hopes and plans of the SSI community and those attracted to SSI's real-world application. We have to reflect and rethink.

Put starkly, many millions of people have been excluded, persecuted, and murdered with the assistance of prior identity architectures, and no other facet of information technology smashes into the human condition in quite the same way as ‘digital identity’. Therefore, if ever there’s a technological innovation for which ‘move fast and break things’ is not the best maxim, this is it. We need to move together with diligent respect for human dignity and living systems.


Developed under the auspices of the AKASHA Foundation, and first published to the Generative Identity website.

With thanks to those who commented on draft versions: Dil Green, Will Abramson, Ryan Worsley, Jakub Lanc, Brent Zundel, Andrei Sambra, Mihai Alisie. And to those who have influenced the ideas here in conversation and in their writing: Matthew Schutte, Jonathan Donner, Elizabeth Renieris, Kieron O'Hara, Martin Etzrodt, Michael Shea.

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The Number 1 Challenge for Humanity – Cooperating at Scale (part 2 of 2)

green plant

First published to the AKASHA Foundation blog.


In the first of this two-part blog post I described why cooperating-at-scale is humanity's primary challenge. Here I outline some candidate concepts and pre-architectural principles to inform the necessary and sufficient 'sociotechnological primitives'.

First I'd like to qualify pre-architectural. It's not oxymoronic despite arche meaning origin or beginning. Both physical and software architecture originate structure and structural relationships, and we're not yet at the stage to prescribe such things. Structure is ossified pattern and our purpose at this early stage demands instead that we offer just a little structure to open up the space to explore and nurture multiple patterns in preparation for the emergence of multiple structural forms. If pre-architectural doesn't do it for you, then perhaps think of it as a parsimony of design.

A means to our purpose is the encouragement of multi-disciplinary cooperation towards ever-improving multi-disciplinary cooperation. At scale.

Nuclear physicists refer to the smallest amount of fissile material needed for a sustained nuclear chain reaction as the critical mass. No-one can know the variety or volume or patterns or structures of the methods, materials and mindsets required to constitute a critical mass for cooperation-at-scale, but perhaps your spidey senses are similar to our own ... maybe, just maybe, assembling such critical mass is a possibility nearer, rather than further away.

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