Four Pillars: Competing for Identity

Most people I speak to tend to agree that identity, authentication and permissioning are key issues to resolve in the context of how we live and how we conduct business in the 21st century. Much has been written about these issues, much remains to be written and debated. And done.

But in the meantime……..

I thought I’d test my own thinking by removing one basic principle of identity, that of uniqueness, and seeing what happens. It’s not a big leap to take. All you have to do is move from a deterministic model of identity (which yields uniqueness) to a probabilistic one (which doesn’t).

Let’s see how this plays out. Let me throw a few snowballs.

Competing for identity is not new. We have all heard the story about Charlie Chaplin taking part in a Charlie Chaplin lookalike competition and coming 3rd. The Chaplin Wikipedia article I’ve linked to even mentions it as part of Trivia. [An aside. Try researching this story. You will find that the event is reported as having taken place in San Francisco, in Los Angeles and in Monte Carlo. In keeping with this argument I’ve taken a probabilistic approach to the provenance of the story, and accepted that on balance the San Francisco story has the highest likelihood of being true.]

Identity is currently based around a scarcity model. What happens to our thinking if this were no longer held to be true, and that we had to deal with an abundance model?

Being unsure of identity is not new, at least from an authorship/actorship sense. Can someone earn a degree at University without having some knowledge of the speculation surrounding Homer’s works, or those of the Bard?

Transferring some aspect of identity is not new. Powers of attorney have existed for a very long time, as a legal instrument to transfer some power that is associated with a unique identity. The Wikipedia entry even uses the phrase “in the principal’s name” to describe the power. The use of per pro in signatures has also been around for a long time. When I was young, I was led to believe that if person A copied person B’s signature on a document with the full knowledge and support of person B, this was acceptable. I may be wrong in this, but there is some anecdotal evidence that this is true.

Having a “double” is not new. Chance doppelgangers have been reported since time immemorial, and a number of officially sanctioned ones as well. Without doing any research, I can recall stories about Churchill, Montgomery, even Saddam. Most such doubles were sanctioned by the owner of the identity, with a clear intent to mislead. Officially. On top of that, there appears to be a veritable industry of celebrity lookalikes. [You’re right, I took great pleasure in using the word “veritable” in that sentence.”]

Using “ringers” is not new. Amateur, community and grassroots sports events have been plagued with stories of professionals pretending to be someone else. No visit to the House of Commons in London is complete without your being told of the nefarious attempts made by MPs of old to send hired hands as alternates for the vote, usually because they themselves were too drunk to show up.

Outsourcing of identity is not new. More and more, I hear stories of online gamers paying someone else to pretend to be them for a while, until Level X is reached, or virtual collateral Y has been acquired, or number-of-lives Z. See the New York Times’ story on this late last year.

Having a parallel identity in a virtual world is not new. The BBC recently rented an island on Second Life for a full year, intending to provide a physical/virtual stereo effect for events like concerts. We have already moved beyond relationship to transaction in the virtual world, with real exchange rates for virtual money. Who says you can only have one virtual identity? Cybersquatters move over, the time has come for simultaneous multiple identity environments. [Are we nearing the time when we will have psychiatrists and lawyers operating across this divide?]

I’m not sure what to make of all this. But I don’t belong to Generation M, and I don’t pretend to understand everything that goes on around me. What I can do is try and learn. Even if it means I have to shed the anchors and frames I am used to and comfortable with.
At least part of the kernel for Four Pillars came from my reading Larry Lessig’s Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace. His tale about the neighbours in court, one cultivating deadly flowers, the other breeding pedigree dogs. It never sounded far-fetched to me. Thank you Larry.

3 thoughts on “Four Pillars: Competing for Identity”

  1. On a tangential side, this [] goes a little further into the (near) future. I’m especially interested in the exhibit, & feel it needs to be expanded.
    On the idea of ‘spime’ see []

  2. To add to the thought of being unsure of identity, I clicked on the link for “the Bard”.
    To my surprise this refered to Shakespeare! Yet on 25th January when we toast “the Bard” we are speaking of Rabbie Burns. There is much speculation as to how many of his works belong to him and how many are based on earlier folk songs and tales. Depends on whether you prefer genuine or veggie haggis for your supper!

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