The Metaverse and My Identity
France, as most of Continental Europe, has a National Identity card. For the US or UK, it is considered anathema. And for its Aadhaar national card scheme, India had to pitch it as a voluntary program. How you register in a system is not a neutral technical solution. It actually defines what makes you unique. It defines your status.
You will first have to register to use the metaverse. This in turn will become a part of what defines you. Guess why everyone wants to be at the table to discuss the metaverse?
The metaverse will come to define many real-world dimensions
Let’s try to picture it and kick off with an example.
Your day gets off to a good start. You open your door, cross the street and buy a coffee. By doing this, you just used at least 3 implicit conventions: home, road and currency. You moved from your defined private space into a public space. Secondly, you used a transportation infrastructure and followed the transportation rules. Finally, you used a state defined exchange currency.
It has taken years to define, refine and deploy all of these conventions and rules. They are about to be once again re-thought.
Defining each of these conventions has changed over time. It is actually continuously evolving. None of the details will last for more than a couple of decades. All of it is pretty much all the time in discussion, in a continuous conversation. Just think about how we argue about cultural identities, nationalities, border controls, etc…
The same applies to the metaverse.
The metaverse is the technological, financial and physical framework, which allows online and offline multiverses to (co)exist and interact seamlessly.
As a type of location-independent presence, the metaverse will require basic agreements that have extremely far-reaching consequences. It is no wonder that everyone wants to be at the table to discuss these.
The metaverse will re-define 3 basic concepts: Identity, Access and Value
Your identity defines who you are based on a series of set rules. Even more so, and maybe primarily, your identity defines who you are for the others. You can compare it with private and public property.
Access to the metaverse will need be to be defined too. The definition of where, what and when you can access information (and services, locations, etc…) fixes the frame within you, the group and society can interact.
Finally, defining a transactional value always requires at the core a mutual agreement on the value of the exchange. You will need to be able to carry an exchange value across the different multiverses. Into the physical world. This means your instruments, currencies or tokens (think NFTs, digital currency, etc.) need to be transferable. To achieve value exchange seamlessly, it is necessary to have a global agreement.
This article “The Metaverse and My Identity” is the first of three articles. The next two articles will focus on Access and Value.
First things first, let’s start with your identity in the metaverse. How will your identity in the metaverse be defined? The metaverse will ultimately define who you are. For yourself, as much as for others.
How is our identity defined today?
It starts with some admin paperwork at birth and maybe a digital registration that will follow you all your life. Then gradually, your identity builds up with your family, the schools you attend, your diplomas and the respective jobs you had.
This identity defines how you access the world. How so?
Today, in the physical world, your identity already defines you when you cross a country border and show a passport. Due to the nature of your passport, you may not be able to enter some countries without a visa. Most countries also have some form of electronic ID, if only for health services. Yet, the paper passport is strong enough an identity marker for the UK Brexit to have switched their passport from burgundy to blue, as a national priority.
Social media as a substitute proof of identity
Some countries are actually already partly using social media as a substitute proof of identity, or at least as a proxy ID. Some went further. China in particular is field testing a voluntary social credit system. The government and private companies jointly run this social credit system.
Get a WeChat account, register on dating sites, use your AliPay/Ant/Sesame virtual card, get credits, make friends, pay on time, register your kid,.. All of this can be part of your social credit identity. Who would not eventually relent, given the preferential access and conditions you get?
Do you balk at this? Just think about what your favourite e-tailer just offered you? What defines you in that dimension. Who are you for this company?
It becomes clear that a merged identity in a merged reality is not far away
The essentials to establish our unique physical identities are: where we come from (both in location and our family), when and where we were born, our original nationality, where we live today and where we pay our taxes.
Establishing a unique digital identity requires more details, more dimensions. Just look at the amounts of online fraud. All of the details shown above can be a reconstructed reality online. Much more is needed to validate that the online persona is really you.
We use unique identity markers since centuries. They need to be updated
Theft and scam are one thing. The greatest change over the last years is that we can more and more decide about our identity, as our online interactions have evolved. It is obviously difficult to be someone else in a group that knows you for years. Being someone else online is far easier.
Actually, in the physical world, our base identity sometimes feels like frozen in time. Ever got that feeling that people are talking to the ‘you’ of 20-30 years ago?
Your current identity is much more fluid. You can essentially redefine your interests, your image, your network or your identity at a whim. You can even have multiple separate identities simultaneously. Identity has slowly become more and more elective over the years.
The digital world allows us to reinvent ourselves, so far partly. But how about tomorrow?
That is what the metaverse offers.
How do you define yourself? How obsolete is your picture on your driving license? Does it even still look like you? As far as I am concerned, I don’t recognise myself. Would anyone else? Pity the policemen who have to try and guess who that is. Now, look at your uploaded picture on your medical records or your social media photo. Ask yourself the same: does it look like me? And then, which one would I rather be?
For me, I would choose for the photo that looks like the “me-I-like” or the one most adjusted to get the bank approval. Whatever fits best. Today, I can choose who sees what. Maybe I wish to transfer this “me-I-like” picture to my passport and driving license too. As I wish it, it is likely to eventually become an option.
Take what happens now.
The Covid Pass is only the beginning of an instantly accessible digital identity.
Such was the debate around the Aadhaar card in India. The Aadhar card is linking health and tax records. It offers much potential intrusion in what we call today privacy. Therefore, it is sometimes seen as dangerous, or at least disturbing.
How about the “me-I-like identity photo” with added Deepfake and Photoshop?
Today, governments are the guarantor of accuracy of any information. That includes the authenticity of my photo. That is why there are croppers, stamps, watermarks and assorted technical physical solutions. You can fake all of these. It is only ever a matter of knowledge and time.
We accept that governments are the guarantor of our personal identification. We may buy into an immanent superior moral authority. This authority guarantees that the risk of identity theft has been minimised.
How about tomorrow?
What if Facebook/Meta, Google, LinkedIn, ByteDance, Epic, EA or anyone else takes up this mantle of authority? Who will define and judge the authenticity of our identity? Who will define and judge whether the photo we uploaded is actually who we really are? Given the success of catfishing on Tinder, I would not bet on the current metaverse as a guarantee.
Our identity is not only the way we look at yourself, but the way we present ourselves to others
The way we present ourselves on a dating website is one thing. It is quite another when we introduce ourselves to the world of citizenship, taxes, voting, diplomas or property certificates. Our identity melts into wider ones.
It is not only about how we ideally see ourselves, but the way others can look at us. Validation of information is important. The degree of accuracy of the identity proof expected is crucial. Today, both are ultimately state-sanctioned. However, more and more social media channels, e-tailers and online services have their own more or less sophisticated registration and identity systems.
This is nothing new. Remember the trepidation of your first PayPal registration account?
Everything is talking to mostly everything else. Do you still expect tomorrow to have 3-4 different logins to your TV streaming bundles? How many more logins are you willing to have to access websites, offices, banks, etc…? It becomes unmanageable.
Establishing a unique online identifier is far from easy. Today, we did not yet manage to have one identity across national services. So how to identify yourself uniquely, safely and accurately tomorrow? It is proving to be tricky. Of course, you can upload a real-world picture ID and do a face scan. This is the case for the UK NHS (see picture). Once uploaded, how sure are you that these will be used safely? Can you trust the information you see? Afterall, how many do cheat their age to play online.
How much self-discipline can we expect in presenting ourselves accurately?
Well, we do have figures for that. As you know, a redacted CV is part of the job market reality. 88% of all CVs are embellished in one way or the other, according to LinkedIn. Just check it out. You could be surprised as to how many ex-colleagues were actually company CTO, CIO and even CEO without you ever realising it!!!
A lot of our identity today is still essentially administrative and physically anchored in paperwork, both for practical and legal reasons. At times though, our identity is already becoming partly or fully digital depending on the services. Tomorrow all these registrations will have to talk to each other. Again, the debate around the risks of merging of all administrative information into one IOD for the Aadhaar card in India may not be as exotic as it sounds.
This new reality will merge all digital IDs. The metaverse will have to define a “root avatar”
This traditional government (regal) prerogative is more and more shared with other registration systems. It will eventually depend on the metaverse. A unique system identifier will have to be agreed. This agenda is currently pushed through the different blockchains system as to generate a unique, inviolate and safe identity globally. That is the basis of NFTs, often linked to a unique Ethereum crypto-chain sequence. However, moving into such a disembodied political space sounds very much unlikely. Just a toe in the water proposed by ANT created immediate backlash as it touches on the very essence of nations, states and governments systems. It also touches our cultures themselves, as it changes the very notion of value. More on that in the last article of this trilogy.
We can already foresee the infinite possibilities of variations of our identities in the respective multiverses. A unique ID, a root avatar will have to be established.
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Identity set, the metaverse will define access and value
Defining the rules for Identity for ourselves, as much as towards others, is intriguing. The system that will underpin all of this tomorrow is the metaverse. This can be potentially threatening for whomever was involved up until now in defining identity.
Dismissing the metaverse as a tactical move, under-selling it as a Wii-bots online meeting session, does play into the hands of those who have understood where this leads, and are actively building it.
These collective and individual entities will define access and value. With this, the metaverse will define who and what we can access. In the same way as who can access, use or post on social media today. Access to the metaverse will be the same but on an inter-dimensional scale, across all multiverses. This access requires exchanging elements across all systems. The different multiverses will require to create a universal or at least a broad exchange value. Think about it, how much will your time be worth in such a globally fluid environment? How much is it worth today?
To be continued… “The Metaverse and My Access“.
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