Self-(De)termination: The Fatal Ambiguity of Digital Identity

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2024-06-06 22:00:07

In Hong-Kong, a finance worker joins a video call—one of dozens they attend every week. This is not a routine call however: the meeting’s agenda is a request to transfer $200 million Hong Kong dollars. Familiar faces appear on-screen, their voices filling the headphones. In the flattened reality of this digital interaction, reassured by colleagues and superiors, the employee finalises the transfer details and wires the money. None of those people were real. The money disappears.[1]

As you read this, the world has entered an era where no recorded voice or face can be trusted. Amongst the many system shocks the 2020s will be remembered for, this is a tectonic shift that shatters how we cultivate social trust, especially in digital societies. Entrenched governance structures, agitated by sudden paradigm changes, have led us to this digital identity event horizon. A pure science (non-)fiction timeline of crimes, made possible by the most intimate impersonations, stretches as far as the eye can doomscroll. Clearly, the rise of AI social engineering attacks highlights the pressing need for more technological solutions enforcing more robust authentication. How else can this depressing state of affair, where no single attribute of a person can escape the reach of bad actors, be brought to an end?

Perhaps a more important question is, how did we get here? The answer remains elusive. As trust in identity crumbles, the entire dID field is left incoherent. Lost in the mainstream dID discourse is a consistent definition of the very subject of the debates. Instead stands fledgling, market-driven governance cultivated by a cohort of self-selected experts—NGOs, politicians, technologists, executives and private consultants—, all agitating for discrete interests and the ‘common good.’ Contradictory and competitive conceptualisations of the self lead to decisions made for entire populations—often with unexpected consequences.

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