Today we had a meeting with @RobvanKranenburg and his colleague Gaëlle Le Gars. He wants to work more closely with Edgeryders in driving forward his work on digital identity in the context of NGI Forward.
The main conclusion of the meeting was this. Rob has a story in three steps.
- At step one, some relatively familiar, even boring, stuff happens. Companies form consortia to roll out digital ID solutions (like it’s me in Belgium); obscure standards bodies make resolutions; national governments and the European Commission fund technology development.
- At step three, the Westphalian world as we know it is over. States die by a thousand cuts as people stop paying taxes. A completely new world emerges.
Step two is missing. It’s true, identity certification is a key element of statecraft, and giving it away to the ilk of ING, Proximus and Microsoft seems a counterintuitive move. But the mechanism that leads from an inoffensive new login system to a full system breakdown, that’s not clear at all.
We are going to help in filling in step 2. We do it in two ways:
- We move back in time, and talk to historians. There are definitely historical precedents from what’s going on. When coinage was invented, it was about transforming a piece of metal into some kind of magic word that carried the might of the sovereign. Today, in a similar way, the Estonian government assigns a unique number to each chip embedded in e-ID cards. Both the king’s profile on the coins minted by Isaac Newton as Master of the Mint in the 17th century and Estonia’s unique codes are fairly easy to fake, and were faked. The system maintained then, as I guess it does now, its balance based on a mix of general goodwill (most people do not cheat most of the time) and violence (the king’s goons). Maybe there is something to be learned by looking at these precedents.
- And we also move forward in time. The Sci-Fi Economics Lab (#earthos:sci-fi-economics) is building up a library of fictional economies that might help us imagine the world that’s coming. Is it a post-Westphalian world of clades and franchises, like in Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age? Is it a world of international truth-establishing bureaucracies like Information in Malka Older’s Centenal Cycle?
We do all this both on and off platform, but Edgeryders, as always, lives mostly on platform. I am asking @johncoate and @MariaEuler to work with Rob on community management. We also might want to roll out a dynamic page on identity (pacing @owen). Maybe we, in time, spin off a new sub-cat of Internet of Humans, dedicated to identity.
Rob and Gaëlle will move forward with an open call for some essays to be somehow rewarded, both in history and in sci-fi. We republish it and circulate it. They might also organize events where the best stories get showcased. In general, they drive the work, but we support them from here.
Rob, am I misrepresenting you?