Designing Digital Identities

Taking Ourselves into the Digital World.
We live in an analogue world yet we are breaching the horizon of perception with new digital technology. It’s a new era that we can experience. Time has passed from the dot com boom, the social media boom and now we are in the blockchain boom. Yet, it’s deceptively satisfying to put our hands on things that we use each day from keys to keyboards, from cell phones to the elegant and the simple act of popping bubble wrap.
The new age we are experiencing with digital assets such as music, video and other tech does not have a bridge from the analogue world to the digital world. We hear digital music in an analogue audiowave. We see digital pictures through analogue reception into our eyes. What about digital classifications of ourselves as beings? How can we experience this and throw the first rope across this digital chasm to cross?

When we are born, we have nothing but the humans around us to nurture us towards adulthood, being hopelessly dependant on the knowledge of parents and others to raise us, integrate us with society and so that we learn the culture of the world. A birth certificate is ground zero for linking our existence to survival with the benefits of health care, education and human rights. Many people on the planet do not have a birth certificate. There is no infrastructure for them to have one or sometimes, they are just missed being given this golden ticket to Willy Wonkas factory or the doorway to certain opportunities in the world.

From the perspective of new tech and solutions, blockchain technology is looking over the edge of a wall with many options to implement digital identities to the world which will have incredible effects in very different ways on our planet.

In first world countries, we will leverage this technology to simplify the government programs we already have from education to healthcare and new uses such as voting in and out of politics. On top of everyday uses, digital identities will revolutionize the banking industry. Corporations are using cryptocurrencies to transfer hundreds of millions of dollars around the planet in mere seconds, but mortgages are still being faxed through copper phone lines and drivers licenses are still being photocopied for KYC (Know your customer) and AML (Anti-Money Laundering) regulations. This is a massive speed bump in this road we are on. The destination we see with blockchain is a utopian perfect Star Trek type system of data and simplicity. Yet we can only move as fast as a society dependant on the slowest systems that we still use. I defer to “Buffalo Herd Theory” by Cliff Clavin of Cheers. (You can google it if you were born after 1990). We can only move as fast as our slowest buffalo, or technology. New technology may kill off our slowest systems though if we allow it to or if it happens organically. If banks are faxing documents, they are unlikely to approve mortgages with a fingerprint, at least right now. The transition of hardware use and policies may come quickly, but the benefits will be exponentially greater to the systems that we currently use. For more information on this, a term “zero-knowledge proof” allows details to be proven from immutable data without risking the release any of our information at all. Other options include releasing partial amounts of our personal information at our discretion. We will be in control of our data, and we won’t be releasing it to Google, YouTube and Netflix with the same freedom we are now. Take that scammers, fraudsters, those causing corruption of our existing systems and the random person leaving me scammy voicemails in foreign languages every week.

In third world countries, the story is different, and essentially more important. A digital identity may be the difference between a life of being uneducated, tied to slave labour and even human trafficking, which is more prevalent to women and children. Imagine the situation where a child in 4 or 5 years from now, knows of nothing else other than what information of theirs is held in a worldwide blockchain database all locked into their fingerprint or other biometric measurement. Yes, we can envision issues, and other speed bumps from this, but will that deter us from trying new systems and use of this technology? If it can ensure better care for those in the world who need it in third world countries, there is no doubt that these systems will be implemented. If we are bombarded by advertisements linked to our big data and our scans of the iris in our eyes, that may be just a speed bump we have to address as we come to it. If we are in control of our identities, what information is on lock down, what is released in portions that we specifically need at the time of use, we will be able to say we have achieved something beneficial.

One fantastic notion is that much of what is worked on in the world of blockchain is released as open source decentralized software. Bitcoin is a revolution in itself in the fact that Satoshi Nakamoto (A three man group in my opinion) released this software to the planet in 2009 and it has been copied to over 9500 nodes making it incredibly immutable in its data security. Yet, we see on average in first world countries only 5% of populations are using bitcoin let alone other cryptocurrencies.

This tells us that the use of digital identities may be a long way off on a grand scale or across an entire country. Adoption may be somewhat slow of these new technologies in blockchain, but with the right teaching methods, the learning curve can be covered and a new users eyes are opened wide to the opportunity of decentralization on many platforms of the world.

What programming and systems integration do we need to push this technology ahead? We have much of that now. Smartphones are more than capable of running any software to be used with biometric scanning. The more important question is, who will run a DLT (distributed ledger technology or blockchain) to carry the first digital birth certificate? Some colleges are offering credentials on the blockchain now. What would be essential for ease of use of this tech would be a central DLT to be shared across platforms and allow integration of another blockchain. To accomplish this, there needs to be an open source collaboration of blockchain being built. If blockchains being built end up like different types of cell phone chargers, we will be set back a long time in potential progress.

For a decade, we have all made upgrades to our phones from micro USB, to thunderbolt, USBc and now thank goodness for wireless charging. Let’s hope we can avoid this with blockchain adoption. A level of AI integration with github down the road may help direct big data funnels into blockchains. It is feasible to have somewhat cognoscent AI to filter and enter this information to gain certificates from birth, to achievements in education, record vaccination events automatically. A separate blockchain from every school, hospital or doctor, is not likely the right answer here.

We are working with some of the industry leaders who are developing these systems. The avenue of a collaboration of our efforts to document and incubate innovation in this regard depends on you and I. We need to be able to share concepts, ideas, progress in work and have open discussions about the directions we are working to achieve new accomplishments in what we are achieving. Look for a more detailed feature on Digital Identities in the April edition of our magazine, available online at, retail locations in Canada and here on our website.

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