Simplicity in a complex environment possible?

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In all of our sophistication(s), humans react to the world in simple ways as our ability to cope with its complexity is limited. Do we seek simple solutions that hide or ignore the complexity?

Human senses are constantly producing far more data than their brains can process. Our brains cope with complexity by identifying important features and filtering out unnecessary detail(s). An example such as on seeing that the space you enter has four walls, a floor and a ceiling, you know you have entered a room and usually ignore the details. As individuals we deal with complexity by removing or hiding it. Our mental schemes are one way of doing that. Habits are another.

We also simplify complex decision-making by using received wisdom (e.g. advice of others, conforming to the beliefs and attitudes of what we may be associated to).

Society has many ways of managing complexity, one common approach is “divide and rule” approach to management which leads to hierarchical division of large organisations. Hierarchical breakdown introduces its own issues as the need to define early what are the decisive factors. Although structural changes can take place but only of rather limited value. Such systems have a tendency to go for the local optimum in each branch (see “The first step is key…”).  Another approach is to define laws, rules, commercial standards which creates limits and restrictions.

New technologies are usually introduced to simplify our lives, but inevitably they have unexpected side effects on society. An example is the introduction of robotics/ labour-saving systems set off cascades of social change, such as the decline of the nuclear family. In addition instead of addressing and replacing the complex systems with more efficient adaptable ones, we add additional layers of complexity by keeping legacy systems and integrating them with the so-called new and simpler ones. On top of that there is a continuous addition of business process which makes consolidation almost impossible. It makes life simpler to rely on others to provide solutions to complex problems.

This inability to fathom complexity leads to a belief that any worthwhile solution to a situation must be simple. Any change introduces complexity into people’s lives. Rather than face issues that are complex, some retreat into denial, preferring to believe in a simpler future in which there is no change and continue with their paradigms.

In an era of post-truth and pseudoscience, avoid dismissing uncomfortable facts out of hand. Complexity arises from the richness of interconnections between things. Can we continue to ignore the wider context and the side effects of actions and ideas? The continuous adoption and extension of programs are vital to humans over time.

“Our brain is not to think – it is to keep us alive”

 

The first step is key …

In the previous post we looked at Getting in and out of the box at will …. Thinking and acting outside the box is not easy at all.

The post Three Things You Need To Know About The Brain To Build Great Teams by Everett Harper shows some reasons for this based on Ellen Leanse book, The Happiness Hack. We all want to be happy. Our brain experiences two forms of happiness:

  • One, “hedonic” happiness, is associated primarily with fast reward dopamine cycles
  • The second “eudiamonic” form seems to rise from longer, slower reward cycles associated with serotonin

The post states that we have been hacked and are now flooded with hedonistic fast reward happiness. We must break free when we go out to explore the boundaries of our box to finally start thinking and acting outside of it. Once we manage to leave the box this triggers new insights causing ‘eudiamonic’ happiness but also fear.

Fear is the natural response of the brain to new experiences. The brains main purpose is not to think but to keep us safe. Keeping us safe works best by following routines and patterns. So the safe place is in the box where we follow what used to work. To get outside and break with routines and habits requires explicit action, it’s hard.

And finally once you have left the box it will be hard to convince others to move. They comfortably sit in the box. The perceived good place is in the box, talking about better alternatives is perceived as negative. But routine tends to be boring – a convincing and exciting vision may help to get things going.
People often say that execution makes the difference. Maybe it is the decision to make the first step ….
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Towards a digital barter economy?

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Barter is a system, used since many centuries ago, of exchange where goods or services are directly exchanged for other goods or services without using a medium of exchange, such as money.<

Thus a barter economy is one where money does not exist or has ceased to be functional. It means consumers have to gain goods or services through exchange. Limitations introduced are:

  • Difficulty to produce or find the demand of specialised goods only wanted by a proportion of the population
  • Indivisibility of some goods/services
  • Seasonal; perishable
  • Subjective means to judge how much good and services actually are

Then came the development of using commodity money whose value comes from a commodity of which it is made (e.g. cigarettes, gasoline, precious metal, etc). The system of commodity money eventually evolved into a system of representative money as gold/silver merchants or banks would issue receipts to their depositors – redeemable for the commodity money deposited. Eventually these receipts became generally accepted as a means of payment and were used as money. To date most countries adopted fiat currencies that were initially fixed to the U.S. dollar as it was fixed to gold. However in 1971, the U.S. government suspended the client convertibility of the U.S. dollar to gold and many countries have thus de-pegged their currencies from the U.S. dollar. In our current state most of the world’s currencies became unbacked by anything except the government’s fiat or legal tender and the ability to convert the money into goods via payment.

Can the use of fiat currencies continue to sustain in the forthcoming digital ecosystems? Would money evolve to become cryotofiatcurrencies? There is the notion of “private money” set out by the noted Maltese “lateral thinker” Dr Edward de Bono which he argues that companies could raise money just as governments now do – by creating it from thin air. The idea of private currency was treated as a claim on products or services producers by the issuer. An example is company x can issue “ Company x currency” that would be redeemable for its products and services but also tradable for other companies’ currency or for other assets in a liquid market. According to Dr de Bono, to make such a scheme work, the company needs to learn to manage the supply of money to ensure that the monetary base and its capacity to deliver are matched and that inflation does not destroy the value of their creations.

This will introduce a new financial market where companies instead of issuing equities, it issues money that is redeemable against future services. In the case of startups, this money would trade at significant discount to take into consideration the risks inherent in the venture. But once it passes this state, the value of the money will rise provided products/services are available and more importantly used and preferred by consumers. With potential tens of millions of such currencies in circulation either being traded on futures, options, foreign exchange markets this leads to the question of usability and extremely complex transactions that people can not comprehend. The notion is that an individual’s “digital me” will be conducting these transactions with other digital representation of the physical individuals.

“Digital me” (see Be your digital self …) will be entirely capable of handling complex transactions and/or negotiations with other such as matching demands and supplies of financial assets, determine prices, or make settlements. Communications will be in real time and activities take place instantenously.

Will digital tokens be the form of “private money” described above to be the defacto in the marketplace? There will not be any centralisation to manage new forms of money. Tokens won’t only be issued by companies and tokens that implement on the values of communities will become prominent in the transactional space.

“Every day, in every way, the future of money looks very much more like its past” – Dave Birch

 

What I read got me thinking

“Making me think” is one of the biggest compliments you can obtain from me. We are used to continue our habits and patterns and it takes great effort to escape from them.
As a child I was always inquisitive and full of questions – although some are not so challenging but when in doubt we try to understand and learn by asking lots of questions. Over time we perceived to think that we have asked all important ones with all the answers ready. Thus the creation of “our box.”

Asking questions is a way of getting in and out of your box at will and to develop new concepts, thoughts and ideas. Asking yourself (and others) many questions every time is a form of gym to workout your brain. Martin Gaedt explores this in “Rock your ideas” (available in German only). Look around and start to challenge yourself and others – rock your ideas!

How will Artificial Intelligence affect crime, war, justice, jobs, society and our very sense of being human? Max Tegmark provides a fascinating perspective into different forms of life, its evolution and physical limits in Life 3.0. The book defines basic terms like intelligence and busts common myths. Max raises many questions, provides answers and stresses the importance of having accepted ethical standards in the rise of AI.

What is happiness? Is there a formula to become happier? What are the parameters and how can the outcome be optimized? Solve for Happy by Mo Gawdat takes an engineers perspective.

Can humans overcome death? Should they? Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari looks into a world where more people die from eating too much then from having nothing to eat and where more people commit suicide then there are victims of soldiers, terrorists and criminals together.

Do you believe what you can see? Can you only see what you believe? The Internet of Us: Knowing More and Understanding Less in the Age of Big Data by Michael P. Lynch explores this paradox.

What is money? What is currency? What if companies issue their own money? Before Babylon, Beyond Bitcoin: From Money that We Understand to Money that Understands Us by David Birch s a fascinating book exploring how technology is changing money.

Do you know what work is? Do you work in the office or are you just busy playing roles without producing value? Lars Vollmer provides answers in his book Zurück an die Arbeit: Wie aus Business-Theatern wieder echte Unternehmen werden. The book is available in German only.

What is important? What is true? Is it important, that it is true? Gunter Dueck explores these questions in his book Flachsinn: Ich habe Hirn, ich will hier raus. The book is available in German only. How can one escape from the growing shallowness? Maybe by listening to these books and by challenging yourself …

The publications above made me think … What books made you think? How have they influence “your box”?

A good time to “workout” our brain and reflect on “our box” during the holiday season.

Getting in and out of the box at will …

I recently read Don’t Just Think Outside The Box — Go In And Out Of It At Will by Bruce Kasanoff. The post was about Eric Lee, a specification writer who started to successfully paint on glass motivated by his wife.

  • “Here’s what I find most fascinating: Eric never stops thinking about what’s possible and how he might stretch the boundaries of where and how his art finds its way into the world.”
  • “I don’t think out-of-the-box,” says Eric. “I believe in knowing where the box is, and going in and out at will. I don’t want to be pressured to always be edgy. Sometimes there are classic techniques that work best.”

Do you know what and where your box is? Do you know its boundaries? This is actually a very interesting and also challenging question. Do you know the boxes of the people you interact with or the boxes of team members at work?

Thinking and acting outside the box and experiencing the world from different perspectives with fresh eyes is increasingly important in our fast changing time. Start by thinking about your box(s) as you can only step outside the box if you understand the boundaries, the paradigms and habits which make the box your box.

Thinking outside of the box allows you to get rewards outside of your reach.”

― Matshona Dhliwayo

Self Sovereign Digital Identity

Before we explain what is self sovereign digital identity, let us first define identity, then elaborate on digital identity which inherently leads to the final form of digital identity management where each user controls their own digital identity.

  • Identity is a uniquely human concept. It is that ineffable “I” of self-consciousness.
  • We all have a Social identity – the qualities, beliefs, personality, looks and/or expressions that make us a person

But how do we proof our identity when interacting with others? Lets look at an example:

You interact with a person who claims to be John Smith and wants to do some transactions with you. John gives you his passport (or a in some countries his driver’s license) as a proof of his identity claim. You attest John’s claim by looking at the passport, determining whether that it is authentic and then comparing attributes captured in the passport with the person in front of you.

This process includes the following concepts:

  • claim – a claim that an actor would like to consider true
  • proof(s)- evidence that something is true, often based on a trusted certificate
  • attestation – verification by an independent party that a claim is true

You may now create a record in your system with a customer identifier, a copy of the passport and additional attributes such as address, date of birth by further verification either through utility bills or other formalized evidences. This record is a digital identity and represents relevant aspects of the social identity and is now the basis for your business interactions with John.

This may all sound simple and rather straight forward, but

  • Attestation is typically a manual process where unstructured data is captured and verified against the available proofs which must be collected and stored
  • Only a subset of the captured information is constant. The captured attributes may get out of sync with reality
  • The presented proofs may be faked, and the quality of the attestation depends on your skills to identify such issues
  • Wherever John wants to have additional interactions, a similar process is required leading to the creation and attestation of another digital identity
  • Whenever information changes, John must provide updates to all relevant parties
  • John has no control what happens with his data and who is accessing it

Juridical persons and things can also have a digital identity – however in this post, we will continue to only focus on natural persons and look at ways such digital identities can be managed.

Identities

Digital Identity Management started with centrally managed approaches. The authority, of such approach, that manages the digital identity data becomes the guardian and qualifies the digital identities. As networks evolved, federated approaches were adopted where multiple authorities jointly manage digital identities. User-centric identity is expanding where a user has more control over his digital identity and decides whether to share an identity from one service to another. Such sharing capability is based on standards like OpenID (2005), OpenID 2.0 (2006), OpenID Connect (2014), OAuth (2010), and FIDO (2013). It’s important to note that all these approaches are centralised but the user has more influence as to how the information is shared.

The concept behind self-sovereign digital identity is to give the user full control over his/her digital identity. It is a distributed identity management approach where a person creates a unique identifier for their digital identity, places claims and asks others in the network to perform attestation. Claims and attestations can be secured using cryptography with the public and private keys of the involved parties.

  • An actor can encrypt a claim with his private key
  • The actor can use the public key of the attestation authority to keep attestation private
  • The attestation authority can decrypt the message with its private and the users public key
  • The attestation authority can verify the presented proof and sign if using its own private key
  • The attestation is then sent securely back to the user

The user now has an attribute with a digitally secured attestation and with proof of a verified authority claim(s). Over time network of users builds up, where identities are maintained and trusted through attestation of proofs given by others in the network. Attestation authorities can be official authorities, organizations and other users. The quality of an identity in such a system depends on the quality of the involved authorities. Ideally this approach will introduce a single user-managed digital identity which can be used in the network when required and becomes the core of the genuine digital self (please see Be your digital self)

Christopher Allen has defined ten principles to ensure the user control that’s at the heart of self-sovereign identity

  1. Existence – users must have an independent existence
  2. Control – users must control their identities
  3. Access – Users must have access to their own data
  4. Transparency – Systems and algorithms must be transparent
  5. Persistence – Identities must be long-lived, ideally last forever
  6. Portability- Information and services about identity must be transportable
  7. Interoperability – Identities should be as widely usable as possible
  8. Consent – Users must agree to the use of their identity
  9. Minimalization- Disclosure of claims must be minimized
  10. Protection – the rights of users must be protected

It is important that the private keys need to be well protected as they grant full control of the digital identity.

So far, this post discusses the creation of a digital identity. In a future post we will look at how do we bridge between the real and the digital world. How can a system verify the user is who they claim to be?

Conclusion

As the world becomes hyperconnected (please see “No ‘OFF’ Switch“), digital identity and security will continuously gain importance. As there will be, in the foreseeable future, no worldwide authority to manage digital identities, the world will converge towards a self-sovereign identity system where users own their data and various actors perform attestation in a mutual way. The system, in its nature, follows paradigms of earlier times where trust was the result of a social network. The introduction of Digital changes the proximity requirements allowing applicability of such system on a global scale.

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No “OFF” switch

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Hyperconnectivity or “the sharp increase in the interconnectedness of people, organisations and objects that has resulted from three consecutive waves of technology innovation: the internet, mobile technology, and internet of things (IOT).” By 2020, according to the world economic forum, there will be 50 billion networked devices. This level of connectivity will have profound social, political, and economic consequences, and increasingly form part of our everyday lives, from the transportation that we drive to the food that we consume, to our jobs and the governance system we live in.
The challenge in hyperconnectivity is that by definition it transcends geographic borders. Data sovereignty and different rules on data privacy and taxation are becoming more prevalent. Will we be able to truly switch off/disconnect, or maintain distinct credential(s) in both online and offline worlds?
With further extension to hyperconnectivity people will find it harder to disconnect themselves, switch off or reveal distinct aspects of their credential(s) in different situations. We are heading towards an increasingly networked state where boundaries between online-offline, work-social are blurred with the merge of different spheres of contextually identifying credentials. This is becoming to be increasingly important due to the transformative consequences of social and technological changes.
Social digital ecosystem(s) differs from traditional communications technologies allowing users to create,share, consume and collaborate in instantaneous mediums. Governance of online credential(s) will become increasingly important and will bring out issues of ownership and privacy.
Rules of governing the dominion of digital information are dramatically different to those of offline possession. For example an image posted online could be retained or used by othersin ways that is not allowed or intended by the original author.
Hyperconnectivity is often synonymous with the loss of anonymity and a threat to privacy. The willingness of individuals to disclose information in exchange for access to services combined with the financial value to be gained from exploiting customer data mean that individuals cede control over what happens to their data. Even of individuals of limited to no online presence may be identified online, e.g. tagging in uploaded photos or movies. Therefore  individuals may no longer be the primary creators of their own online credential(s).
Identitifying credential(s) will change significantly as online credential(s) are becoming part of the many overlapping attributes held by individuals. Context is crucial in understanding an individual. An individual may have multiple effigy(s) simultaneously. At times, in some places, one digital self or another would be utilised depending upon context. An individual’s sense sense of self are affected to a greater extent by their ecosystem such as the events, community, family, and friends and not due to big events or global trends. Understanding the context and which effigy is most relevant  is crucial to predicting behaviour.
Hyperconnectivity represents a step change. The world is now a highly connected environment where its citizens are globally networked individuals. Events taking part anywhere in the world leads to real and immediate impact(s) elsewhere. Hyperconnected individuals have been provided an efficient and powerful means of communication but equally miscommunication can take place.
In the increasingly hyper connected ecosystem(s), identifying attributes are resources that can have personal, phychological, social, and commercial value. Trust is fundamental to relationships between citizens, between people and commercial organisations, and between citizens and the state. Ethical issues will become more complex and relevant as varying credential(s) come into conflict. A need to maintain balance between privacy, freedom and protection will become a key priority as we progress into the hyperconnected future.