Philip Sheldrake

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Tag: self-sovereign

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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Why decentralization needs more than cryptonetworks – the Internetome

Aldous Huxley (1937) regarded the decentralization of industry and government necessary for a better society. Norbert Wiener’s insights (1950) into the dynamics and ethics of humans and large computer systems hinted at the advantages. Marshall McLuhan (1962) anticipated a shift from the centralized mechanical age to the decentralized electronic age, coining the term global village as shorthand for such a welcome outcome. E.F. Schumacher (1973) considered decentralization allied with freedom and one of “the truths revealed by nature’s living processes”. Steven Levy’s hacker ethic (1984) includes the tenet “mistrust authority – promote decentralization”. And Nicholas Negroponte (1995) regards decentralization as one of the four cardinal virtues of the information society (alongside globalization, harmonization and empowerment).

When centralization is mediated by an organization, governmental or corporate, its best interests must be aligned perfectly and continuously with the parties subject to its gravity in the mediating context – otherwise decentralization must be preferred to avoid the appropriation and erosion of those parties' valuable agency. Importantly, decentralization demands decentralization at every level without exception for any exception would be centralization. By definition.

This post aims to scope the challenge that still lies ahead to secure decentralization even with the rise and rise of cryptonetworks such as Ethereum. For more information about decentralization in general and why it's important, see Decentralization – a deep cause of causes you care about deeply, written for the World Wide Web Foundation.

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