Category: Identity (page 1 of 2)

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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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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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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A call for interdisciplinarity — generative identity and the Internet Identity Workshop

First published to the AKASHA Foundation blog.


The post Generative identity — beyond self-sovereignty (2nd September) has spawned a lot of conversation in private channels and on the ProjectVRM Harvard mailing list ... some 15,000 words in exchanges with more than a dozen people active in ‘digital identity’. This post is dedicated to the most salient parts by way of making a contribution from a distance to the 29th Internet Identity Workshop (IIW) taking place this week at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. Living eight time zones away, I have not yet had the opportunity to attend an IIW, and this occasion is no exception unfortunately.

This is a call to action. Whether it succeeds or not in that respect will depend in good part on how well I’ve been able to communicate the severity of the problem with the current trajectory — in terms of our psychological, societal, and ecological health — and how well I’ve been able to make the ethical case for the urgency of interdisciplinarity. Beyond that, it is in the hands of those leading the ‘identity community’.

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Presenting generative identity at Edinburgh Napier University

Professor Bill Buchanan OBE invited me to present generative identity at the 2nd International Conference on Blockchain, Identity and Cryptography at Edinburgh Napier University earlier this month. Thanks Professor, and thanks too to Will Abramson for making me feel so welcome.

On the basis that the video of me walking around in front of my slides isn't all that visually exciting(!), here's a cut my colleague Joshua Long was good enough to produce, showing just the slides with the audio.

Generative identity — beyond self-sovereignty

First published to the AKASHA Foundation blog.

With thanks to those who commented on draft versions: Matthew Schutte, Jonathan Donner, Martin Etzrodt, Andrei Sambra, Mihai Alisie.

Hero image generated from the original image by Ryan Alexander.


I'm going to outline three ways to think about digital identity to help move the conversation forward in line with the AKASHA Foundation's purpose. I'm not claiming any neat taxonomy per se, just exploring very different degrees of nuance with radically distinct implications.

  1. Relating to how personal and group identity is manifest online, naively
  2. Relating to how personal and group identity is manifest online, expertly
  3. Relating to how we might employ digital technologies to transform society's accommodations of and approaches to identity, generatively.

Naively

It seems from observation alone that quite a few technologists work in this mode, excited to be bringing pre-digital bureaucratized identity into the digital age.

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Verifying identity as a social intersection

people blur

First published to the AKASHA Foundation blog.


Co-author of Radical Markets Glen Weyl invited me to review Verifying Identity as a Social Intersection, co-authored with his colleague at Microsoft, Dr. Nicole Immorlica, and Stanford University's Professor Matthew Jackson.

The topic is so-called digital identity, a term that could be mistaken for how personal and group identity is manifest online, but actually relates to how we might employ digital technologies to transform society's accommodations of and approaches to identity.

It is not a challenge that anyone might describe as readily "solvable", as my recent webinar for SSImeetup makes plain. If anything, it is a fine exemplar for H.L. Mencken's witticism:

For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

This paper is an important contribution towards navigating this complexity appropriately. I do however identify a major problem — and therefore opportunity — relating to the conceptualizations of identity the authors have made their object. It appears they are intent on engineering for the trickiest yet perhaps the most societally important conceptualization, but then present it as a solution to a more mundane conceptualization, and one that desperately needs the balance of the former to mitigate its innate harmful potential.

I finish with a brief explanation of the AKASHA Foundation's work here. As you can imagine, this is core to our purpose.

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