Supporting Rob's work on digital identity

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?


Alberto, you hit the nail on. the head! It was a real pleasure to have that conversation. yesterday. Gaëlle and me will come with an open call after my trip next week to Headquarters ETSI where I can present our work on Disposable Identities in the work stream ESI:


Our work deals with digital signatures and related trust services."

With the feedback we are getting there we have a good view on how to engage coders, thinkers an tinkerers on this key issue that we think will define the quality of what it means to be human in a fully connected world.

Looking forward to working you @alberto @johncoate, @MariaEuler and @Owen on this!


I’m game. Sounds good.

Thanks John!

This looks like a good place for someone to start in understanding “disposable identities”:

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@RobvanKranenburg, do you think it might be helpful to have an initial call or briefing to talk about how we could help you best with this project?

Yes, after this week is best. This week I am in France at HQ ETSI to present the idea. We already hav e. A lot of traction. With that feedback I can gert back to you. Shall we have a call on Monday. 3?


This Monday 3 o clock or Monday the 3rd of Feb?

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Monday February 3 at 15:00 is good. I will send you a link.

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Here is an interesting Al Jazeera column about the “end of the nation state,” largely replaced by what the writer calls the “total state.”

@MariaEuler @johncoate Maria, John, I am traveling. on Monday and in Conferences Tuesday, Wednesday. Can we move to Thursday or Friday? I will email you a text that should be. a start and the TC ESI presentation on. Disposable Identities. There was a question. from John Zib
about. “on boarding” the Transmediale community (artists and activists) onto Edgeryders and I think that this discussion theme on. Identity that we set up will be very good for that. I will loop you into the email discussion. @alberto is already in cc.

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Thursday works for me. Just remember I am 9 hours behind…

Thursday late afternoon/evening fine for me too :slight_smile:

What time are we having the call? I am in another one from 19:00 to 20:00 cet