Who am I, Really?

Contributor: Peter Vander Auwera

Peter Vander Auwera

Peter Vander Auwera

I have always been intrigued by identity. Physical-world-Identity or Digital-Identity. But “digital” is an outdated adjective, used by pre-millennial friends to make a distinction with the world as they used to know it.

“When trillions of devices are interconnected, we need to think beyond the ‘device’. We, the ‘Data-objects’, are the context and interface: ‘We are the data’. And we, the data, need a common interface for our ‘Dysical’ (Digital-Physical) Identity to deal with Access, Trust & Grid-Literacy.”

Today, it is ONE environment, blurring the contours of who-I-am as a human being in flesh and blood and with my own mind, thoughts, and consciousness. Both my body and my mind are getting increasingly augmented and complemented by tools, by the ecology of machines, networks, and algorithms. That ecology of an emergent self-correcting organism was labeled as “The Technium” by mastermind Kevin Kelly.

We probably have to invent a new word for this “one environment of me”: maybe the word “Dysical” – as a contraction of Digital and Physical – could do the job? But it is more than one word we need. We need a new language, a new vocabulary, a new grammar; new ways to create the sentences and the narrative that can capture this new form of being. And when we have developed basic literacy in this new language, we’ll perfect it like art, like literature, like poetry, for deep and rich self-expressions of the “Dysical-me”.

That rich self-expression will need a new data order, caused by ubiquitous connectivity and an increasingly pervasive computing environment, generating two massive transformations: the enablement of peer-to-peer relations, and the explosion of data: big data, small data, augmented data, fast data, real-time data, etc.

We swim in a sea of data and the sea level is rising rapidly. Tens of millions of connected people, billions of sensors, trillions of transactions now work to create unimaginable amounts of information. This is a new environment requiring lots of adaptability. We are a species from the land that have to learn to live in the ocean. Like camels that used to live in the desert, that now have to survive in the ocean.

A new environment requires a new design. I described this new data order some time ago as the Cambrian Explosion of Everything and the Digital Asset Grid. These posts where a little more technical in nature, but I’d like to emphasize that Peer-to-Peer (P2P) changes everything, and leads to a new economy. Michel Bauwens coined this the “P2P Economy”. To get a deeper understanding of Michel’s work, checkout this fantastic report “The Synthetic Overview of the Collaborative Economy.

I’d dare to go one step further. I believe it is time to start reflecting on a P2P “Data-Economy”. Thanks to the ubiquitous connectivity, nodes in a grid can now interact and share with each other without central body or governance. The emergence of the Bitcoin currency is a typical example how new and probably more robust and resilient currency exchanges are possible without central banks, central governance.

Organizational hierarchies are also challenged. Even the concept of leadership is challenged, as leadership today is still a quality based on what you are in a hierarchy (your title, your level, etc) and not based on who you are as a human being. The latter leads to peer-to-peer relationships between duos, triads, or self-organizing cells called “pods” by Dave Gray in “The Connected Company.”

My “Dysical-Self” is also getting more and more defined by my context and reputation in this new P2P data-economy. My identity no longer simply equals my identity number or my digital certificate or passport. My identity is deeply correlated with my relationships with other people and other nodes in the grid. Trust suddenly gets defined at the level of the relationship, not at the level of identity.

Digital Asset GridAnd that form of “Grid-Trust” goes way beyond “access” of data. It is about “usage” of data: “Usage rights and permissions” as defined and managed by the owner of the data.

For that sort of trust, trust frameworks will be needed: contracts that clarify and express the rules of the game, like a marriage contract, with liabilities when the relationship rules are not longer respected.

That sort of trust will also be very much related to our reputation. Whether that reputation is as self experienced with our human antennas, deducted by algorithms (Klout, Peerindex, Kred,…) or Socially Vouched (LinkedIn, Connect.me,…)

It will require some form of Cloud Operating System, where our mobile device becomes the remote control of our personal and interoperable Data Clouds. See in that context the interesting work of Phil Windley at Kynetx, and Drummond Reed of Respect Network (disclosure: both organizations worked as contractors to Innotribe SWIFT in the Digital Asset Grid project).

But one could go on step further, where we think beyond the device. Dhani Sutandto , Senior Digital Art Director and the creator of the Oyster Card Ring recently indeed quoted in PSFK Magazine:

“There will be mobile devices but they will be something that you would wear discreetly, without making you look out of place. Instead of constantly looking down at a screen, people will wear something discreetly. Your interaction with technology won’t
 be gone, but it will be seamlessly integrated and we will therefore look up and interact in a human way with one another.”

Indeed, when trillions of devices are inter-connected, we need to think beyond the context of the “device”. Device is no longer the context. We – the “Data-objects” – are the context, are the interface: “We are the data”. And we – the data – will need a common interface to deal with our Dysical Identity, to deal with Access, Trust and Grid-Literacy.

The insights above developed over the last 15 years or so, after the identity virus infected me during the launch of the Electronic Identity Card in Belgium and more recently in my work on SWIFT’s Digital Identity Grid, an Innotribe incubation project.

Today, others come to similar insights from a completely different angle. Since 1989, the folks from MAYA consulting did fantastic design work on pervasive computing. Three of their senior leaders just published a book on this subject: “Trillions, Thriving in the Emerging Information Ecosystem”, a very recommended read.

We indeed have to liberate the world’s data from their proprietary silos, so they will be free to flow up and downward between nodes in a grid, enabling us to express again in full “dysical” richness who we really are and where we want to go next: #wethedata!

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