Digital identity is not human identity, and that matters

If your work involves architecting or designing or developing or policymaking for the interweave of people and digital technologies, or researching the consequences, may I invite you to check out my new essay: Human identity — the number one challenge in computer science.

Wonderfully, I've been helped by thirteen reviewers offering more than two hundred questions and suggestions over six months. The work has been funded 🙏🏼 by the AKASHA Foundation, and is co-published with the brilliant Kernel community. Here's a very quick outline ...

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We need to talk about the social graph

First published to the AKASHA blog.


Who doesn’t love a good concept?! Concepts are the fundamental building blocks of thinking, of designing. While there are plenty of things in the mix when it comes to contemplating system design, if the primary concepts remain unchallenged and unchanged from what came before, then the outcome will likely look very familiar. If you want system change, start with changing the paradigm — the system of concepts and patterns that form the worldview.

By way of a quick example, if the economy of your new system picks up on the concepts collectively known as capitalism — e.g. private ownership, capital accumulation, scarcity — then perhaps it should not be a huge surprise when your new system turns out to be capitalist too. New code. Same concepts. Familiar outcome.

Technological decentralization isn’t magic dust. Merely decentralizing the technical structures or components manifesting a concept is no guarantee of different outcomes; technological decentralizing doesn’t even guarantee decentralization.

So with that said, this post is about a concept known as “the social graph”.

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The past, present, and possible future of software architecture

Fungus

It is important to understand the ways in which software may be conjured into the world for the simple reason that software and information technologies more generally have immense social and economic impact. The genesis of such process has been called software architecture, and there have been various attempts over the years to define the term and corresponding activities precisely, specifically in relation to the elements, forms, rationale, and constraints involved (“What Is Your Definition of Software Architecture?,” 2017).

A well-defined understanding of software architecture is critical to its practice and perhaps the word choice alone has helped sustain a certain nature of software architectural practice akin to that undertaken for buildings. The definitional approach taken by Perry and Wolf (1992) is typical of the traditional genre, drawing parallels with the precursors of hardware and network architecture, and their forerunner, the architecture of the built environment.

Samuel Butler (1912) observed:

Analogy points in this direction, and though analogy is often misleading, it is the least misleading thing we have.

To what degree are we misled by the architectural analogy? And might we find a better analogy, that is one that’s less misleading?

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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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